Posts Tagged ‘Washington Nationals’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Growing up is hard. There are expectations that must be met as you grow older, society expects X from you, and you must provide X. Everyone goes through growing pains, some go through them more harshly than others. There are a select few, however, that go through the maturation process in front of millions of people. We call them athletes.

Watching a player struggle through his early years is all part of the game. We saw Griffey and A-Rod grow up before our eyes on the national stage, ditto with Michael, LeBron, and currently Toews, Kane, and Rose. They all went through/are going through growing pains. What I’ve noticed around Chicago is that while we don’t expect much from other cities young kids, we place impossible expectations on the rookies that come up through Chicago. This is specifically true in baseball.

Beckham and Castro

Gordon Beckham had an .808 OPS as a 22 year old rookie. He was brought up as a reactionary move to an offensive black hole that occurred when Josh Fields failed to produce. White Sox fans were anxious to see the Georgia kid at the major league level as they expected the Sox to repeat the surprising year they had in 2008. Ozzie famously said that if the White Sox had to call up Beckham it showed that they were in trouble. Well, they got into some trouble during the season and Kenny made the call to the farm.

Beckham’s start was good enough to earn him the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year award.

‘‘I wish that kid was a two- or three-year veteran in the big leagues because he has that attitude,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘He has that right frame of mind. He was a leader his whole life from when he was in high school, college. I think he wants to be the face of the franchise, and we need something like that. When a player thinks like that, doesn’t hide in the weeds, you don’t see many players come up from the minor leagues and think that way. It’s a big challenge. But I don’t have a doubt in my mind that he has the right tools to be one. Obviously, it has to come from help from myself, Ken Williams and the staff to make him a great leader.’’

-Ozzie Guillen

Expectations were pretty high from there on out. When his offense cratered over the next two years, fans were puzzled. His rookie year was so outstanding, how could he not build on that and improve?

Starlin Castro has been a hit machine since he debuted with 6 RBI’s. With the bat in his hand he has been stellar. The major knock on him is his defense. He goes through lapses of concentration that are as baffling as they are infuriating. There isn’t a player in the majors that makes me go “that’s a great play,” to “that was a dipshit play,” in the same game quite like Starlin. As of writing time, he has twice as many errors (8), as walks (4). This makes a lot of Cubs fans irate.

And gives some ammo to Sox trolls

I’m pretty sure this guy is a White Sox troll

This invariably leads to a lot of talk of moving Castro to 3B, 2B, a corner OF spot, or 1B. The “Castro isn’t a SS” movement is gaining a lot of traction locally, and while it has quieted down some over the past month (He hasn’t committed an error in 16 games), you can bet that discussion will start cooking again when he commits another error.

I think it’s obvious that both Beckham and Castro are going through growing pains, albeit in opposite aspects of their respective games. Beckham plays sublime defense at 2B, he’s smooth, has range, and can make all the throws. He has an ugly hitch in his swing right now though, and he just can’t hit consistently. His minor hot streak has his average up to .204 with a paltry .627 OPS. Castro is still prone to lapses in the field, he’s flashing better leather lately, but he’s going to have to continue to play solid defense to shed the “butcher” tag. His defense is still a violent game, with flashes of smoothness. Both players are trying to make adjustments in the glare of the public eye. Both had the savior tag applied to them when they were brought up. Both need to be given time to properly show you what they are before you pass judgement. Beckham’s time is shorter than Castro’s because he’s older, but Cubs fans need to relax on the “Move Starlin off SS,” movement too.

Which, you know, brings me to Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

Superkids

Anthony Rizzo is still destroying AAA.

Geez, settle down

Brett Jackson…not so much

Cubs fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of both players at the Major League level. Rizzo has a cute little twitter dedicated to him, @FreeRizzo. There are a few things that Cubs fans need to keep in mind when it comes to both players, and the Cubs in general.

  • Neither Rizzo nor Jackson are going to save the Cubs in the short-term. This is a full on dedicated rebuilding that will look a lot like the Royals rebuild had a baby with the Nats rebuild. It’s going to take time. I hope the Cubs will be much better in 3 years, but much better is 80-85 wins. That could potentially be 20-25 wins better than the hypothetical 2012 record.
  • The Cubs are ridiculously devoid of talent at the Major and high Minor League level. This past draft was the first one the Cubs have had in a while that impressed people around the league. There is zero pitching help at AAA.
  • Trading Soriano is going to be really hard. He’s gimpy and people already know what kind of hitter he is. Why do I bring this up? Well, how else are you going to make room for Rizzo? LaHair to left, Rizzo at first is the aim.
  • Speaking of Rizzo, I haven’t heard any respected talent scouts call him the second coming of Albert Pujols. I think that his ceiling is Paul Konerko level production, and he’s likely to simply be an above average 1B. That’s awesome, trust me, but it’s not a franchise changer. He shortened his swing, and I do think he’s ready for MLB, but he’s not likely to turn into a perennial MVP candidate.
  • Jackson will be lucky to be Curtis Granderson pre-Yankees. Again, that’s awesome and I’ll take it, but we Cub fans need to stop pretending that he’s more than what he is. He’ll be solid, but I doubt he is ever considered an “impact” player.

Cub fans need to check our collective reality meter. We need to understand what this team is now, and what it will be in the future. This is a deep and real rebuild.

Speaking of reality checks

If the White Sox make the playoffs, and that’s a huge if, it’ll be because the other teams in the Central failed. Don’t start pretending like this team is good because they won 5 of 6 against the two worst teams in MLB. I would get pissed as a White Sox fan if Kenny Williams sees this squad and starts trading prospects for vets because he sees fools gold. Let’s look at a few things.

  • The White Sox pitching staff is the best component of this team, but it’s schizophrenic at best and average on the whole at worst. The White Sox have a slightly above average staff ERA that is buoyed by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.The other three starters all have ERA’s over 4. The enigmatic John Danks keeps alternating between good start and bad start. Phil Humber is similarly quizzical, as it looked like he had figured some things out with the perfect game, only to regress to “inconsistent” status over his next 5 starts. His walk rate is close to double what it was last year, and I think that’s a symptom of nibbling that could lead to future trouble. Gavin still lives in Gavin world, where sublime stuff is permanently married to a low pitching IQ.
  • That offense is putrid, and Orlando Hudson will only help it so much. You can’t survive in the Cell with 3-4 offensive black holes. Eventually other teams will come into town and hit the HR’s that you aren’t. This is reflected in their 8-13 record at home.
  • Jake Peavy is a ticking time bomb and you need to trade him for value. Seriously, he’s not going to sustain a .249 opponents BABIP. He’s stranding 79% of baserunners, which is similarly unsustainable, and his GB rate is at 31.1%.That flyball rate is asking for trouble in the Cell. The xFIP number is also pointing at a big ole regression to the mean. You can’t pitch on the margins like that and survive in a homer haven. It’s damn near impossible.
  • Addison Reed is likely the only reliable reliever the Sox have in the pen. I have no idea what happened to Matt Thornton, but he’s been inconsistent the past two years. Will Ohman is still Will Ohman, and Hector Santiago is still trying to figure it out.

What the White Sox look like to me is a mediocre team in a mediocre division, it would be foolish to sell off parts of an already thin farm system when they declared this year to be a transitional year. White Sox fans have already spoken with their wallets what they think about this team so far, the empty seats are telling me that you don’t think they’re for real, so don’t be mad if they sell at the deadline.

At the end of the day

Both fanbases need to settle down. The Cubs shouldn’t rush Rizzo, the White Sox aren’t poised for greatness as currently constructed. The Cubs have awhile before they are true title contenders. The White Sox might seem closer, but be wary. Depending on the moves they make this year, their championship clock could be moved back by years.

Even when he does cool shit Bryce Harper still looks like a douchebag.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“In American Society our ways of teaching about baseball are better than our ways of teaching about anything else. No matter how your mind works, baseball reaches out to you.”

Bill James

I

At my heart I’m a historian. My mind is stimulated by the pastoral, by history, by personal stories, by real emotions, my mind is stimulated by what was and how it can affect what will be. I had a rare opportunity at the All Star game in 2006 to sit down with Buck O’Neil and listen to him tell old war stories for 15 minutes. It’s a vivid memory that really won’t ever fade into my memory, and I’m glad I got to talk to him before his passing 4 months later.

The reason I’m so excited about this baseball season has very little to do with the local talent. Sure, Chris Sale looks like an absolute lefty monster on the South Side. Starlin Castro is a tremendous young shortstop that oozes potential and could become whatever he wants to become at this point. There’s some talent on both farms that warrant watching, but that’s not why I was so eager to start the 2012 baseball year. It really has nothing to do with Chicago, really.

II

The Washington Nationals (15-9) have never finished higher than 4th in the NL East until last year. After a surprise 81-81 inaugural season in Washington (they were originally the Montreal Expos), the franchise found itself stuck in the mud. They wouldn’t top 75 wins until 2011, and their winning percentages were pretty abysmal. They lost a combined 205 games in 2008 and 2009.

The fortunes of a franchise can change for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes they sign a few big name free agents, get the right coach, and go riding off into the sunset with a ring. Other times they get career years from everybody at the right time en route to a championship. And then there are the Nats who managed to be so bad that they got two potentially generational players in back to back years.

Stephen Strausburg  and Bryce Harper are extremes. Stories of their feats are the stuff fables are made of. “He throws 100 with plus command and has 2 wicked off-speed pitches. The other guy hits 500 foot homeruns and he’s only 17.”

That’s not made up, that’s the reality of the situation that the Nationals are in. They have 2 great talents on a roster that might just be good enough to win the pennant this year. Strausburg will have an innings cap, and Harper, for all of his physical tools, might not be ready to hit major league pitching just quite yet, but this Nationals team is for real everywhere else.

That’s ridiculous. Edwin Jackson is has the highest SP ERA at 3.69. For context, the current NL ERA is 3.72. He’s better than average this year but he’s about 2 runs worse than any other starter on the Nationals.

III

The Dodgers (17-8) have experienced some recent success, most recently reaching the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 before falling into a curious funk that some blame on the tumultuous McCourt divorce. Their ascension is linked directly to the maturation of two budding superstars, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Matt Kemp missed out on being a 40/40 guy by a single homerun last year. This was following an awful 2010 where he OPS’d .760 and was 19-34 on stolen base attempts. He cratered production-wise and decided to tinker with his batting motion. Kemp eliminated the stride that he took before he swung his hips and went with a no-stride approach. It resulted in a .226 jump in OPS and a 2nd place finish in the MVP voting. To start the 2012 year he’s just destroying everything.

Kershaw is 24 years old and has a Cy Young under his belt. He’s a legit Ace and just might be the best pitcher in baseball. His WHIP sits at 0.92, he strikes out 9 per 9, and last year he slashed his walk rate by 1 BB/9. What we’re watching with Kershaw is the evolution from a thrower to a pitcher. Not everyone gets it. Wood was a great thrower, but he never learned how to pitch. He never learned how to dial back the RPM’s and save the hard and good stuff for need situations (see Verlander, Justin). Jake Peavy looks like he’s just now starting to learn how to pitch, but he’s also 31 and past his prime stuff wise. Carlos Marmol never learned how to pitch and tried to make a career out of one pitch. Clayton Kershaw can pitch now.

That’s a dip in walks and hits allowed, and an increase in IP and K-BB ratio. The question on Kershaw was always whether he’d mature from a thrower to a pitcher and it looks like he’s supplying the answer. An ace in the truest sense of the word has no flaws. He’s durable, he has a plus-plus pitch, an arsenal of plus pitches, great command, great makeup, and he proves it, year after year. It’s a show me tag and Kershaw is in the process of showing us.

IV

Pennant chases make baseball. I wasn’t around for any of the good ones really. I didn’t get to see the Giants win the pennant, I missed out on Bucky Fucking Dent, I lost the most famous Cubs homer in the Gloamin, and I completely whiffed with the Gas House Gang comebacks. The true pennant chases are gone, and what we have left are division races and wild card finishes. The most recent amazing comeback was excellent and it brought me to a very happy baseball place where I threw my hands up in celebration as Dan Johnson hit a homerun that meant absolutely nothing to me in terms of rooting interest, but was probably the source of my highest high as a baseball fan. My heart broke with Uggla and Linebrink as the Braves melted, and I kinda dislike the Braves. Pennant chases bring out the best in baseball, and the Dodgers-Nationals thing has great potential to be an amazing cross-country rivalry.

Young superstars, one of them is a heritage franchise, the other is building up a fan base revolving around youth, it should be thrilling to watch. They gave us great theater during their first series match up this past April, Harper debuted, Kershaw was dominant, and Kemp won it in the 10th. It was a well played baseball game, it had drama for all the right reasons, and the star power was there. In time people should remember those matchups, when Scully called Kershaw vs. Strausburg, when Harper reached the bigs, when the Nationals and Dodgers played against each other in meaningful games. I hope more moments like that happen for Octobers to come.

Well, at least until the Cubs are good, in which case, fuck both of them.

I’ve been there before, down that path, feeling that same sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s the feeling you get deep within your being when you have so completely failed to live up to the expectations of people that support you. The sensation is truly nauseating. You begin to realize that people put their faith in your ability to perform a task, or to get a job, or to be special.

Yes, I’ve failed miserably before, odds are that I will again.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Adam Dunn. He is the type of slugger that I appreciate nowadays. Low average, walks a lot, hits monster home runs, strikes out quite a bit as well. I’ve drafted him to every fantasy team I’ve owned since 2006. There are three true outcomes when it comes to Adam Dunn, and I can appreciate that.

Last year was painful for me as well.

When you fail, when you fall down, it’s usually not in front of 20,000 people. To watch Adam Dunn last year was to watch the slow death of a confused animal. One who is not completely sure why it is dying, but one that is certain of it’s fate. Dunn knew he was going to fail towards the second half of last season. He looked lost in a mire of his own personal doubts and the pressures to perform a duty that used to come so easy to him before.

Perhaps that is the issue, it was easy before. There were little to no expectations for Dunn in his previous stops. Cincy was never in contention with him, Arizona had a brief stint as a contender when he was traded there, and the Nationals weren’t ready to contend when he landed there. His destiny as Sox DH was predestined, it’s a home run happy park, one where Dunn could exercise his prowess and become something more. He was traded to a team that was supposed to contend.

And then 2011 happened.

Historically, there has never been a full season collapse like this in baseball history. Think about that, baseball records have been reliably kept since 1885. Since then, no one has fallen on their face harder than Adam Dunn.

Dunn’s bat looked slower, and statistical evidence seems to back that claim up. From 2007 through 2010 Dun averaged 536 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 87 times pers season. In 2011, Dunn had 411 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 100 times. Pitchers threw fastballs to Dunn 62% of the time from 2007-2011, but in 2011 Dunn saw fastballs 69% of the time.

Pitchers aren’t afraid of Dunn, and that’s an issue. Adam Dunn needs to figure out if he truly loves baseball, because he didn’t just fail to live up to expectations, he set a record for failing.

There is one silver lining in his numbers.

Despite being historically bad, Dunn saw an uptick in his BB ratio. You can take this as a sign that his patience could help in 2012, or that he is too afraid to swing at anything and he lucked into a few walks. Either way, it’s something positive that he did.

Dunn wasn’t alone in failure on the south side. Rios and Beckham were supposed to be two very good hitters for the Sox. Rios was claimed off waivers by Kenny Williams in 2009 and had a respectable 2010 year. Beckham was a first round pick with a hitting pedigree from Georgia. He was a College World Series hero and many argued that he should have been the rookie of the year in 2009.

Both players were expected to have good years for a contending team in 2011, and both failed to meet expectations. Here is a graph of the trio’s wOBA

Or if you want more traditional stats:

Those three players had 1623 combined PA’s and severely under performed last year.

Rios looks like a gifted athlete. He patrols centerfield with grace and speed, he makes it all look so easy. His tools are apparent and that’s what makes his struggles so infuriating. He can be a good baseball player, but there is this odd mental block with him that is impossible to describe. He should be a 30 home run guy, but he isn’t. He should hit .300, but he doesn’t. He should be a gold glove centerfielder, but he never will be. Perhaps it is lapses in concentration that leads to his poor play, but he needs to play better.

Beckham looks like a lost cause. He was a stellar fielder at second base in the first half, but his fielding dipped as his bat never really got on track. He has regressed every year he’s been in the league, and that’s a terrible sign for a rookie phenom. Beckham collapsed in the second half last year, but the dip wasn’t as visible because he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in the first half. He struggled to hit .213 after the All-Star break as his K-rate shot through the roof.

Beckham will never be an OBP machine, he doesn’t walk enough and his swing looks lost, but he can be somewhat valuable since his glove could theoretically justify his bat. He needs to be around .270-.280 for that to happen.

The White Sox have an outside chance at competing in 2012. The Tigers IF defense will be awful and there is a slight chance the the Sox will pitch enough to stay in the race. The mitigating factor will be the bats. 3 of the 4 times the Sox have made the playoffs in New Comiskey the team has belted 200+ home runs. That’s the magic number, if the Sox can hit, the pitching might hold up enough to stay relevant into September. For that to happen, these three players will have to play well.

Dunn is the wild card, if he can return to form, the Sox will do well. The question with him will always be about his love for the game. Picking up a bat this offseason was a healthy start, but he’s going to have to mash for the Sox to compete.