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Talkin’ Nats with Fire Jim Bowden

Posted By Bill Baer On May 14, 2009 @ 5:38 pm In Interviews,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics,Series Preview | 4 Comments

Jim Bowden may not have been fired (he resigned) but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to read about on the blog Fire Jim Bowden anymore. On the contrary: it’s chock full of anything you’d ever want to know about the Washington Nationals: scouting reports, stats, humor, and more.

With the Phillies on their way to Washington, Steven Biel — the author of FJB — was nice enough to answer a few questions about the Nationals. My questions in bold, his responses follow in normal typeface.

. . .

The Nationals clearly have talent on the roster with players like Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores, and John Lannan. Why can’t they ever seem to put it together despite the talent?

FJB: The Nationals have some talented players, but the overall is not good. Their bats have definitely come on strong. Zimmerman, still just 24, is having the breakout year we’ve been waiting for. Dunn has been as good or better than advertised. Johnson is just always on base. Dukes is a special player. But this year, their pitching staff is just cripplingly bad. Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera just don’t give you any chance to win. The bullpen is almost half a run worse in ERA than the next worse group in the NL, but that doesn’t even tel the tale. In key situations, they’ve been just heinous. Late and close, hitters are batting .302 / .418 / .492 against them. Their bullpen is a total -3.02 win probability added for the season.

The bullpen has been in disarray seemingly all season. Can the ‘pen be fixed internally, or are the Nationals going to have to shop around for someone who can pitch the late innings?

FJB: Late innings? With our rotation you need to start looking to the bullpen in the 5th, which doesn’t help. You can’t fault Rizzo for not trying though. Joel Hanrahan, Julian Tavarez, and Joe Beimel are the only guys back there who broke camp with the major league team. Gone: Wil Ledezma, Steve Shell, Mike Hinckley, and Saul Rivera. Figure Logan Kensing will be gone soon too. Jason Bergmann’s been up and back down. In: Ron Villone, Kip Wells, Kensing, and Garrett Mock. There are some guys at AAA who will get a look. Tyler Clippard actually is doing very well in the early going. Jason Bergmann and Jesus Colome are there. They took a flier on Mike McDougal. Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin, Preston Larrison and Marco Estrada are all young guys who could get chances, though some of these guys may be needed in the rotation. But if any of these guys were obvious solutions, they’d be here.

Also, Manny Acta has taken some deserved heat for his bullpen usage. When he lets Saul Rivera pitch to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the 7th inning of a tie game with 2 lefties rotting on the bench… well, it would have been dumb even if Howard hadn’t hit a 3-run homer. And he’s got a rediculously quick hook, which made sense in 2007 when the rotation was terrible and the bullpen was very good, but this year he’s just exacerbating the team’s weaknesses.

On Monday, Sky Kalkman did some research at Beyond the Box Score and concluded that the Nationals were the unluckiest team in the National League. Do you buy that? Also, are there any Nats who you think are playing way above or way below their ability?

FJB: No, I don’t buy that at all. Their late-inning relief has been awful. When you just have miserable players in key roles, that means you’re going to have bad situational performances in key situations. That’s poor planning, not bad luck.

In fact, the Nationals are second in baseball with a .330 BABIP. Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, and Anderson Hernandez have all been as good as they’ll ever be. Elijah Dukes, Jesus Flores, and Nick Johnson certainly have room to fall, when the slumps come. Their offense is ok, but it isn’t this good. Their pitching IS this bad.

Shairon Martis: Aside from the Ryan Howard grand slam on April 27, the Phillies don’t seem to hit him well. No one else has really hit him hard so far, either. Does he have a deceptive delivery, or a vast arsenal of pitches that would help explain his success? From watching him in his two starts as well as his WBC performance, he doesn’t seem like a guy who can shut down a lineup three times around.

FJB: His change-up is his best pitch. His command has been good, but he’s not missing bats at all. His 6.4% HR/FB rate is due for a correction, and he’s a pretty extreme flyball pitcher. He’s really struggled against lefties, so he’s a bad match-up for the Phillies, regardless of what’s happened to date. He gets a lot of credit for “poise” and “makeup.” Personally, I’m still a real skeptic about the Wowin’ Curacaoan, but I’d love to be wrong.

Last year, the team-high home run total was 14 from both Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge. Adam Dunn has 11 already and we’re only halfway into the month! What’s it like seeing someone who actually has that kind of power? The Nats haven’t seen it since Alfonso Soriano in 2006!

FJB: Yeah, it’s fun, no doubt. The Mighty Zimm is still the fan favorite though. It’s so great to see him healthy and hitting. And personally I can’t bring myself to ignore Dunn’s fielding enough to really fall in love. But he’s been a very good signing so far.

Okay, be honest: Is John Lannan being paid to injure Phillies players? In 2007, he broke Chase Utley’s hand with a fastball. Three weeks ago, he made Cole Hamels turn his ankle attempting to field a bunt. What’s up with that?

FJB: Philadelphians won’t like this, but when you crowd the plate the way Utley does, he’s going to get hit. If you like his toughness, fine. But you can’t get all riled up with he gets hit. It’s part of his game. But these days umps protect batters, don’t let pitchers throw on the inside corner, issue warnings for no reason, and it’s really not fair I don’t think. I don’t like the old school ethic of throwing at guys either though. Personally I think there should be a zone where the hitter isn’t allowed to enter, and if the hitter crosses into the “no crowding” zone, then the pitch would be automatically called a strike. That would make it fair for pitchers and also prevent injuries.

Which Nationals could we see dealt by the trading deadline?

FJB: Clearly the Kearns/Willingham/Johnson logjam needs to be cleared up. They won’t get a whole lot for either, but I can’t imagine Rizzo won’t figure out a way to make a move. Frankly, I could stand to ship out both Kearns and Willingham. I would also like to see them move Guzman–they should be able to get something back for him. He’s just a different guy since the Lasik. The $8 mil a year is a bad contract, though, especially given what happened with the free agent market last year.

. . .

Great thanks to Steven and make sure you stay on top of his work at Fire Jim Bowden. In his latest post, he breaks down San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s flawed logic in intentionally walking Ryan Zimmerman.


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