Have the Nationals missed out on the “next Ichiro?”

As the Washington Nationals continue to search for a long-term solution in center field, the Milwaukee Brewers bid $2.5 million for the rights to negotiate with Norichika Aoki, a center fielder from the Nippon Professional Baseball League who will be 30 for the 2012 MLB season, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.  Aoki in seven complete seasons with the Yakult Swallows has earned a career slash line of .329/.401/.454 along with six straight Japanese-league Golden Glove awards.  Some scouts and analysts claim he is the best pure hitter out of Japan since Ichrio Suzuki.

Comparing Aoki’s Nippon Professional Baseball stats to Ichiro’s shows several surprising similarities.  In nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro hit .353, and collected 1278 hits, while winning seven gold gloves.  Aoki, in two fewer seasons, actually has more hits (1284) but hit for a lower batting average (.329) and won six gold gloves.  The two star players were the first to have 200 hits in one NPB season, which is shorter than the 162-game MLB season.  Aoki was the first NPB player to earn this award twice.

Another strong similarity comes in each player’s international play.  In 1998, Ichiro played a seven game exhibition series against MLB All-Stars.  During that series, he hit .380 and stole seven bases.  Aoki, on the other hand, has had more international experience than Ichiro.   In his latest international appearance, the 2009 World Baseball Classic, he hit .324 and led Japan to victory.  To prove this was not a fluke, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Aoki hit .294 against some of the world’s best prospects.

The differences between the two are obvious, though.  Ichiro entered the major leagues when he was 27 years old, while Aoki will be 30 in January.  While Aoki’s experience is a positive, 30 is a bit old for a traditional MLB rookie, which will shorten the length of his MLB career.  Both players’ playing styles are completely different.  Aoki has multiple batting stances for when he is struggling, whereas Ichiro prides himself in consistency.  This consistency is what he attributes to his great stats in his major league career.  Ichiro is also considered a better defensive player despite their similar speed, because he has a much stronger arm than Aoki does.

This past season, the Nationals showed their need for a legitimate everyday center fielder along with a top of the order bat.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina shared center field for the majority of the year.  Ankiel (.239/.296/.363) provided the Nationals with a superb defensive year attributed to his amazing arm, but at the plate, it was a completely different story.  Bernadina (.243/.301/.362) provides above-average defense with his speed and play making ability but had a bad offensive year.  Neither player provided enough consistency to be a top of the order bat, so the line up was changed numerous times during the season.  Bernadina, Ian Desmond, and Danny Espinosa all combined for a horrible .277 OBP in the leadoff spot.  Aoki may be a solution for both of these problems.  He has the possibility of being an above-average defensive player with good speed and a solid contact hitter that could lead off for the Nationals.

The question is, do the Nationals still have a chance at Aoki, and are they willing to take the risk?  It is very possible that the Brewers will not come to an agreement with Aoki because of their depth in the outfield (Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Cory Hart, and Nyjer Morgan), which would allow him to negotiate with other MLB teams.  However, Ryan Braun is slated to mis 50 games after testing positive for PEDs, which could increase the Brewers outfield needs. 

The inherent risk in signing Aoki is obvious.  Japanese players do not have a great history of being above-average major league players with the exception of Ichiro.  The Nationals do have to address a significant need in center field, though, and Aoki could be a somewhat inexpensive risk that pays great dividends to the Nationals if they have the opportunity to sign him.

Report: Nationals Interested in Gio Gonzalez, John Danks

The Washington Nationals are still in search of their big pitching signing this offseason, and GM Mike Rizzo has officially turned to the trade market.

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Nats have shown interest in the A’s LHP Gio Gonzalez as their primary target.  The White Sox LHP John Danks looks to be their backup.  We’ll start with a look at Gonzalez, their primary target.

Gio Gonzalez is just 26 years old, and he made his first All-Star Game in 2011.  In 4 seasons, the young lefty has posted a 3.93 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP, and a 38-32 record.  That record is no small potatoes, because he earned it while starting for the Oakland Athletics.  He reached the 200 inning mark in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.  He’s earned a combined 9.2 WAR in those years.  

Looking at Gonzalez’s stats over his two strongest seasons (2010, 2011), it’s easy to see why he’s Rizzo’s number one target.  He has thrown more than 400 innings, posted a 3.17 ERA in the American League with an outstanding 129 ERA+, and has gone 31-21 in seasons where his ballclub didn’t break the .500 mark.  Perhaps his biggest value comes in his current contract.  Gonzalez won’t be a free agent until after the 2015 season.  That leaves 4 full seasons of value in his services before having to look toward a massive payday and contract extension.

Should the Nats come up short on their negotiations for Gonzalez, Rosenthal says the team is looking at John Danks.  Danks, also just 26, has shown similar value to his ballclub.  Coming off a rough 2011 season, his value may be lower and a bit more cost effective in terms of prospects.  Last year, he posted a 4.33 ERA, a 1.339 WHIP, a below average 97 ERA+, a meager 2.2 WAR, and threw just 170.1 innings.

However, that rough season is an anomaly in an otherwise impressive young career.  Looking at Danks’ best seasons (2008-10), the numbers look far more impressive.  He averages a 3.61 ERA, a 125 ERA+, 1.241 WHIP, 7 K/9, a 203 IP per season on average, and a cumulative 11.2 WAR over 3 years.  These numbers are exactly what the Nats are looking for in another lefty.  The biggest drawback is his contract.  Danks is only under his current deal through 2012, so the team would have to negotiate for an extension after just one season.

The reasons seem obvious from the start why Gonzalez is higher than Danks, but either player could prove extremely valuable for a team, like the Nationals, in need of another lefty starter.  It’s a matter of prospects and MLB-ready players now, and my guess is it may be costly to pick up either of these pitchers.  The trade for Gonzalez may hurt a lot, but how much is too much?


“Strike” is Just a Six Letter Word

Pitches can end up one of only six ways:

  1. In the zone, swung at and missed
  2. In the zone, swung at and hit
  3. In the zone, taken for a strike
  4. Out of the zone, swung at and missed
  5. Out of the zone, swung at and hit
  6. Out of the zone, taken for a ball

Using “Plate Discipline” data from FanGraphs, we can “decompose” every pitch into one of the above outcome for both hitters and pitchers. See?

The plate discipline data is compiled from Baseball Info Solutions, though Pitch F/X data is also available. I went with the BIS data because it showed first in the list, not because the guy who sells it insists it’s the best.

A discrepancy in the data

For almost every pitcher there is a discrepancy between how many pitches that pitcher had called as a ball and those that actually were a ball. For some, such as Livan Hernandez, that discrepancy is huge.

How big are these discrepancies for other pitchers, what do they mean, and what are their causes?


In the aggregate, from 2002-2011 (the only years available) umpires definitely favored pitchers.


The picture on the left illustrates the magnitude of a pitcher’s favor (further to the right means indicates that a higher number of balls were called as strikes as a percentage of total strikes) and the picture on the right gives you an idea of the distribution.

As you can tell from the picture on the left when pitchers get helped, they get helped way more than the pitchers who get “hosed”. The tail is much, much taller on the right than on the left, meaning the most helped pitcher was helped far more than the most hosed pitcher was hosed.

As you can tell from the picture on the left, many more pitchers get helped than get hurt, and far, far more don’t get pushed one way or the other. (Note that the distribution is centered at 0, that is, no bias. Over 50% of pitchers fall within 1% of no bias, meaning most pitchers were unaffected by gracious and/or stingy umpires.)

And, as you can tell from both pictures, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to where you end up. Livan was the third most “hosed” pitcher from 2002-2011 as well as the second and first most helped. What is going on here?

BIS isn’t wrong, the strike zone is moving

After a very, very cursory search (first page of Google results and BIS homepage) there seems to be no evidence that BIS has changed the way they measure strikes and balls over time. This could have explained the unusual results from above, since more balls seem to have been called as strikes over time. Had BIS changed the way they measured the zone while the zone itself was kept the same, one would expect to find this trend.

Instead, I have decided, the way umpires have called the strike zone has changed over time.


On the y-axis is the average percentage of strikes that would needed to have been called balls to erase the “strike deficit” across all pitches. Put more provocatively (and not wholly correctly) this is the percentage of strikes that were actually balls (see the technical note at the end).

It is very clear that strike deficits have been growing recently after relative fairness and even some bias toward hitters. In 2011, however, 2.5% of all strikes were actually balls. My preliminary conclusion: the strike zone has changed.

Nagging questions

After accounting for the “ump bias”, could the remaining variation in strike deficits simply be random? Tell me, for instance, if this table makes any sense to you:

These are the pitchers in the tails of the distribution, the ones getting hurt and helped the most. (Those getting hurt are on the right.)

It is not clear there is a pattern to umpire bias based on pitching style. There are hard throwers in both tails and pitchers with good movement in both. There are pitchers who throw a lot of strikes in both. There are old and young pitchers on both sides as well.

One thing to notice, however, is that there are more outliers on the positive side and those outliers are more extreme. This should not happen with random variation as we commonly conceive of it.


Most important, however, is that some pitchers show up multiple times in both tails. If pitchers were recipients of generalized “ump bias” then who is in the tails should be random. Yet we see Clayton Kershaw and Anibal Sanchez in the “losers” tail two times apiece. Meanwhile Livan Hernandez shows up with the “winners” twice while we see Derek Lowe there four times.

A pattern in the shuffle

I noticed there was some positive correlation between the number of actual balls a pitcher threw with his propensity to get those balls called as strikes. It does not seem likely that just because a pitcher is throwing a lot of balls that an umpire would start calling those balls strikes. Instead it seems that certain pitchers knew with that their balls would be called strikes. This definitely appears to be the case with Livan and Derek Lowe.


These tables show, remarkably clearly, that when either pitcher’s strike deficit percentage was higher (more balls being called as strikes) the percentage of their pitches that were actually balls rose in kind.

Catching matters

Utterly baffled, I then came across this article from Baseball Prospectus.

From the article:

In June 1993, Baseball Digest quoted Matt Nokes with his views on how umpires call the zone.

“Predictability is the key to getting borderline calls,” says Matt Nokes of the Yankees. “If the pitcher is consistent, then the umpire knows where to be looking. But if the catcher is jerking all around the plate and the ump does not know what is coming in where, it’s going to be harder for him to focus on those close pitches and you won’t get them. If the pitcher is throwing consistently where the catcher is setting up, he doesn’t have to be so fine. But if I set up inside and the pitch is on the outside corner, even if it is a strike, we’re not likely to get that call. Even if the pitch is over the outer half of the plate, it will be called a ball, because it missed the catcher’s target so bad. That’s just the way it is.”

And this excellent picture:


From Baseball Prospectus

Livan Hernandez consistently gets the outside strike. I am guessing this is because he can consistently hit the target and that his catcher (Pudge, when he’s healthy) is smart enough to take advantage of the fact.

What about preferential treatment?

The Baseball Prospectus article also contains the suggestion that age was a factor:


From Baseball Prospectus

But not in the sense that Livan simply gets strikes because he is old. From BP:

“Dan found that the older (or more experienced) a pitcher was, the bigger the zone he got from the umpires. It also happens to be true that the older a pitcher is, the more he pitches to the outside edges.”

That is, the pitcher does not get strikes necessarily because he is old but because he can hit his target.

Other factors accounting for the strike deficit seem are (once again, from BP) the counts the pitcher finds himself in and home field advantage. Personality is not mentioned.

“Anyone researching the performance of umpires in calling balls and strikes is strongly encouraged to consider the catcher target theory. It does not fully explain every umpire variation, but it appears to be the primary factor in many cases.”

Toward a conclusion

In yesterday’s article I argued that Livan Hernandez was the worst pitcher in the league the past two years.

But I was mistaken in assuming that the “by the rules” strike zone is what pitchers face. Pitchers face something more complicated than a static box determined by the plate and the height of the batter. If a pitcher can hit the catcher’s glove with little error and do so in or “near enough” to the strike zone, he will get a strike. If he is inconsistent he loses the “near enough” region and possibly even parts of the strike zone if he is too wild. In effect, an inconsistent pitcher faces a much smaller strike zone.

Understanding this, I now have to say Livan probably deserved to be about where xFIP had him, and possibly even where FIP did. Because Livan was able to produce such a large strike zone for himself, he consistently put batters at a disadvantage since his strikes were less hittable than a pitcher whose inconsistency forced him to be in the “by the rules” strike zone. This means hitters facing Livan likely had to swing at pitches they were less likely to make good contact with, possibly suppressing his HR/FB%. More importantly, Livan was able to sneak past more strikes than he otherwise would have.

FIP and xFIP remain important indicators since they still measure the important outcomes. But how a pitcher arrives at these outcomes is not as simple as it may appear.

FIP and xFIP should no longer be thought of as measuring solely what a pitcher can control or as inclusive. Both walks and strikeouts are influenced by the catcher, and a pitcher’s consistency is not explicitly present in either equation.

Further, it seems possible that a pitcher’s ability to expand his zone should be correlated with his ability to avoid good contact or to induce more groundballs etc., based on exactly how his zone is expanded. It was already known that pitchers could somewhat control their hit distribution (GB%, FB%, etc) but this may be another piece of the puzzle.

This discussion should, I hope, emphasize how little we understand pitching. A few years ago I doubt anyone would have anticipated Cliff Lee’s huge successes, which seem to stem from his very low walk rate. Jamie Moyer should have caused us to revisit the importance of throwing hard and age. Stephen Strasburg raises the question regarding the relative importance of velocity versus the ability to stay healthy. Now we have Livan emphasizing the importance of consistency. How do these things combine? In some way more subtle and precise than either FIP or xFIP can make clear. I suspect there could be a pitching revolution in here somewhere, and am patiently waiting for it to arrive.

Technical note

I said earlier that referring to the difference between the number of pitches called as strikes and the number of pitches that were “actually” strikes as the number of pitches that were called incorrectly was not wholly accurate. Consider this example:

A pitcher only throws two pitches. The first is in the strike zone and is called a ball. The second is out of the strike zone and is called a strike.

In the above example the pitcher would be recorded in the box score as throwing one ball and one strike and the same would be recorded by BIS. Seen on FanGraphs, we would not have any idea that in reality 100% of this pitcher’s pitches were called incorrectly and he would be seen as having no strike deficit.

It seems that this problem can be overcome by looking at pitch-by-pitch data from Pitch F/X. I am in no mood to go through that task and, anyway, I assume that someone else already has. At any rate, the FanGraphs data is likely a good enough approximation, as umpires probably call far more balls as strikes than they call strikes as balls.

Nationals Should Have Interest in Joe Saunders

After a disappointing week of Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals are still in the market for a veteran starter to eat innings for the team’s young pitching staff.  On Monday night, the Arizona Diamondbacks may have answered their call by non-tendering LHP Joe Saunders, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Saunders, 30, was born in Falls Church, Virginia, which is just 10 miles from Nationals Park.  The move could bring Saunders back to his metro DC roots where he graduated from West Springfield High School and went to college at Virginia Tech.  He was drafted 12th overall in the 2002 Amateur Draft by the then Anaheim Angels.

The veteran lefty has thrown more than 185 innings in each of the last 4 seasons, with the most thrown last season (212 IP).  In those same 4 years, Saunders has posted a 4.03 ERA, a 54-44 record, and a slightly above average 104 ERA+.  On the less optimistic side, he averaged more than a home run per game, almost 3 walks per game, and posted a good-but-not-great 1.35 WHIP.  

During the 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Angels, Saunders went an outstanding 33-14.  While it may seem like a record like that would reflect dominating stats, that’s just not the case.  In that period, he threw up a 3.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, and 1.2 HR/9. All nearly identical numbers to his career averages.  This shows just how much wins and losses mean for a pitcher in today’s game.

For the Nationals, though, the possibility of a promising veteran who is still fairly young could be valuable as they wait for a more favorable market for starting pitching.  He would only be a stop gap, though.  Unless they sign Saunders to an extension, which seems unlikely, he would be a rental player for next year as he reaches free agency at the end of the 2012 campaign.  This certainly isn’t what the Nats were going for this offseason, but with no real options left, it might be worth shelling out the money to get them to next season or the trade deadline.

Saunders is certainly no Mark Buehrle, but he might eat some innings for a young pitching staff in need of someone to play that role.  Though not ideal, it could work as a temporary fix to a gapping hole in the team’s rotation: a veteran with proven longevity.  He couldn’t fit in the top of the rotation like a Buehrle could, but if matched up with other bottom-of-the-rotation starters, Saunders could prove valuable.

If the team doesn’t choose to go the Joe Saunders route, Roy Oswalt is still on the market.  It does seem that they would have gone that route already if they were seriously interested, though.  And if all else fails, there’s always Livan Hernandez.


Evaluating Livan Hernandez: Is Tricking The Umpire A Skill?

In 2010, at the age of 35, Livan Hernandez had the third best ERA of his career, good for sixteenth in the NL. He was also the most valuable Nationals pitcher.

His success continued in 2011, albeit diminished. His ERA was 4.47. Compared to 2008 and 2009, when his ERA was 6.05 and 5.44 respectively, 4.47 seems quite excellent.

The sabermetric take

It didn’t take long for sabermetricians to call shenanigans. Livan’s xFIP was 5th worst in the NL in 2010 and 7th worst in 2011.

Sabermetricians took this to be evidence of Livan’s poor quality in spite of his ERA. There is a strong, though steadily weakening, consensus that pitchers can only control three things: their walks, strikeouts, and home runs. The number of hits a pitcher gives up is believed to be beyond his control.

FIP was created in accordance with this idea, as walks, strikeouts, home runs, and innings pitched are the only factors in its calculation. xFIP weakens the idea that a pitcher can control his home runs, replacing  the HR term with fly balls multiplied by the league average at which fly balls go for homers.

Livan Hernandez’s FIP was fairly good in 2010 and 2011, though his xFIP was not. Livan Hernandez gave up very few home runs in 2010 and 2011, suppressing both his FIP and ERA. xFIP captures this and adjusts. It gives us a better idea of how valuable Livan’s pitching was.

Another shortcoming

But there is another factor which suppressed Livan’s ERA, FIP, and even his xFIP. In 2010 Livan had 225 more strikes called than he actually threw. Put another way, 11.2% of the strikes Livan threw were not actually strikes. 11.2%!

225 balls is enough for 56 walks and 225 extra strikes surely put hitters into worse counts than they otherwise would have seen. The first factor suppresses ERA, FIP, and xFIP while the second futher suppresses ERA.

If even half of those 56 potential walks had happened Livan’s numbers would have been significantly worse. His BB/9 would have gone from 2.72 to 4.22 (second worst), his K/BB from 1.78 to 1.15 (worst), and his FIP and xFIP both up about by a about a half point (seventh worst and worst).

That is, a stat taking this into account would have Livan ranked as the worst pitcher in 2010, and likely his ERA would have hinted the same.

Is tricking the umpire a skill?

Assigning half of 56 walks to Livan was an arbitrary decision. It would maybe be better to look at the various counts he faced and distribute those uncalled balls amongst them, removing the unduly called strikes. This would lead to a more “reasonable” figure than 56 divided by two.

But there is no denying that 225 uncalled balls is a huge number. In fact, from 2002 to 2011 no pitcher had a higher percentage of strikes called that were not actually strikes than Livan. His luck continued in 2011, when 9.7% of his strikes were actually balls, the second highest mark from 2002 to 2011.


There is no reason to believe this is a skill. The percentage of “unjust strikes” by pitcher varies from year to year. Derek Lowe has some years had amongst the highest such strikes in the league and a few years later had the lowest. Livan has never enjoyed such a high number of unjust strikes.

What do pitchers do?

Every pitch can wind up only one of six ways:

  1. In the strike zone, swung at and missed
  1. In the strike zone, swung at and struck
  1. In the strike zone, taken for a strike
  1. Out of the strike zone, swung at and missed
  1. Out of the strike zone, swung at and struck
  1. Out of the strike zone, taken for a ball

Pitched balls can be “decomposed” into each of these outcomes using data from FanGraphs (see “pitching_analysis_better.xslx”) and these can be used to tell how well a pitcher is doing at fooling batters, at finding the zone, and getting hitters to chase.

This is pitching. Putting the ball where you want it, how you want it, and, knowing the hitter, controlling the damage done. In 2010 and 2011 Livan Hernandez did not do any of these things well. He’s lucky the umpires helped him out. Will they be there next year?

Ryan Braun Tests Positive for PEDs

This blog is usually reserved for issues related to the Washington Nationals.  Occasionally, though, some stories transcend a single team and touches a core issue related to the league and its fans.  This is one of those occasions.  According to ESPN, Milwaukee Brewers RF and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

To be clear, this is a positive test.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that he did take PEDs, and Braun is appealing the decision through arbitration.  As TJ Quinn of ESPN tweets, “#Braun camp believes it can prove it isn’t his fault, but no MLB player has ever successfully appealed positive test.”  There have been a number of positive tests for PEDs, and it is telling that the no player has ever successfully had that verdict overturned.

Testing positive for PEDs is always bad, no matter the player.  However, when it’s the reigning league MVP, it somehow seems much worse, especially in this circumstance.  Los Angeles Dodgers CF Matt Kemp finished in a very close 2nd in NL MVP voting in 2011, and many believed that the main reason he didn’t win the award is because he played for a Dodgers team that fell short of making the playoffs.  Now, if the report is true and the test is affirmed, it appears that Braun won the award illegally.

It also worth pointing out that, according to Buster Olney of ESPN, the Baseball Writers Association of America has never revoked an MVP award because of a PED report.  Kemp would almost certainly have won the award had this report been released before teh BBWAA voted, and now Kemp can’t use an NL MVP in a future arbitration.  This is probably a moot point since Kemp just signed a generous 8 year, $160 million extension last month, but no one remembers who finished 2nd in MVP voting.  It’s a fact of life.

As more details of this story are released, it will be interesting to see what Braun’s defense is and if the MLB will uphold it’s first PED arbitration ever.  If it is upheld, Braun will be subject to a 50-game suspension to a Prince Fielder-less Brewer lineup.  It is always disappointing to see an MLB player be accused of something like this, and I hope that the reports are proven unfounded in the future.  To me, though, it seems unlikely.  This is one that fans and the media will be watching very closely.  

How The Pujols Signing Affects Zimmerman’s Extension

As the Washington Nationals leave the Winter Meetings disjointed after not signing their number one target, Mark Buehrle, the Nationals don’t have a lot of options left, as I wrote a bit about yesterday.  One thing that is on the team’s radar is the looming extension for Ryan Zimmerman.

We discussed this for a few minutes in Episode 3 of Nats Talk On The Go, but it deserves much more time than a few minutes in our podcast.  When Albert Pujols signed his 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it had extremely far reaching effects across the league.  It’s adjusted Prince Fielder’s market for sure, but it’s also changed how franchise players should be valued.

This past offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals had the opportunity to sign Albert Pujols to a long-term deal to lock him up for life so he could retire as a Cardinal, be featured next to Stan Musial’s statue outside of Busch Stadium, and wear a Cardinals jersey in the MLB Hall of Fame.  The front office in St. Louis is certainly kicking themselves for not signing the best offensive player of this generation when they had the chance.

Making the leap to compare Ryan Zimmerman to Albert Pujols here isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds.  It’s not about comparing their talent, it’s about comparing their value to the franchise, and there is no possible way to discount the affect that Ryan Zimmerman has had on the Washington Nationals franchise.  Zimmerman is the very first player drafted by the organization in DC, he quickly made his way to the majors and has proven to be a more-than-capable Face of the Franchise.

In 7 seasons, Zimmerman has posted a .288/.355/.479 slash line while earning a WAR above 5 in the 2009 and 2010 seasons (According to Baseball-Reference).  He was injured for a little over a quarter of the 2011 season and still managed a 2.3 WAR, which puts him in the starter category in less than a full season of opportunities.  He’s had ludicrously high UZR ratings in 3 of his last 5 seasons for fielding, with 2011 as the only year in negative UZR territory while fighting injury and a new throwing motion.  Without a doubt, he is among the best, if not the best, third baseman in the National League.  Off the field, Zimmerman contributes to the community through organizations like the ziMS Foundation, which raises money to fight Multiple Sclerosis.  He’s also sort of a local product.  He’s a University of Virginia alumni and went to school in Virginia Beach.

Since 2005, Ryan Zimmerman has been the player that got the loudest cheers when announced at games.  He’s been the future and the face of the organization.  Without Zimmerman, the Nationals would have been a much more depressing on-field display in the first few seasons of way below. 500 baseball.  It’s easy to forget, but at one point, Zimmerman was the Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper of today.  However, one thing that Strasburg and Harper will never provide is the nostalgia that Zimmerman brought to DC baseball fans after decades without a team to cheer for. 

In this way, he compares well to Pujols.  However, there’s no doubt that Ryan Zimmerman really wants to return to DC, when it was always questionable whether Pujols wanted to return to St. Louis.  If Zimmerman isn’t re-signed, the front office will be to blame, and instead of Zimmerman being the villain, GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerner Family will be.  I’m confident a deal will be done with Zimmerman, I just hope that lessons were learned from the Pujols fiasco and that it’s done sooner than later.  Before it’s too late.

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 3

In this week’s episode of Nats Talk On The Go, The Nats Blog’s Joe Drugan and Capitol Baseball‘s Craig MacHenry talk about the Washington Nationals and Winter Meetings.  The podcast is available on iTunes and available for streaming.


Nats Headlines:

Mark Buehrle

Rule 5 Draft

Outfield (Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper)

Winter Meetings Headlines:

Miami Marlins: Reyes, Buehrle, Bell

Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim: Pujols and Wilson

Albert Pujols’ Effect on Ryan Zimmerman

Questions of the Week: Who is MLB’s dream team? Who won Winter Meetings?

Winter Meetings Disappointing For Nationals So Far

Today is the last official day of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, and the Washington Nationals haven’t been quite the story that many expected.  The Winter Meetings this year were supposed to be a continuation of the Nationals Phase Two, which included Jayson Werth’s 7-year, $126 million deal this time last year.  So far, it’s been anything but.

From the beginning, the Nationals weren’t shy about making Mark Buehrle their top target, despite the non-DC media’s attempt to make CJ Wilson their #1 guy.  Well, neither of those things worked out.  Buehrle was signed by the Miami Marlins to a 4-year, $58 million deal; Wilson was signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to a 5-year, $77.5 million deal.  The Nats were never serious about Wilson and weren’t willing to give Buehrle the 4th year, so they came away with nothing.

It’s still early in the day in Dallas, where the Winter Meetings are being held, but time is running out to make a big splash for the Nationals, and there aren’t many guys left that fit the Nats plan.  It seems more likely that Jayson Werth could be the team’s Opening Day Center Fielder with Bryce Harper as the team’s Right Fielder if you believe this tweet by Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com: “One Nationals person: 95 percent Bryce Harper makes team out of spring training.” 

Yes, there’s still a lot of offseason left, and yes, there are still trade possibilities out there, but the Nationals are running out of time to make the big splash they wanted to going into 2012.  While a rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Wang, Detwiler could be worse, it also could have been a lot better with Buehrle.  Now, the sweepstakes goes to waiting for Yoennis Cespedes to become available as a free agent CF, which, if you ask me, will be a huge gamble for a ton of money.

I believe that GM Mike Rizzo has done a great job in his current role, but l also believe that it was crucial for the team to ride the momentum from the outstanding September 2011 into next season.  It looks like that opportunity may be passing them by.

Head to iTunes or back here tomorrow morning to listen to a special Winter Meetings episode of Nats Talk On The Go.  It should be an interesting one.

Recapping Day 1 of the Winter Meetings for the Nationals

Despite their desire to make a big splash at the meetings, the Washington Nationals were no where to be found on Day 1 of the MLB Winter Meetings.  Unless you count conflicting rumors flying off the handle about the teams interest in CJ Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Prince Fielder, and even Albert Pujols.  Here’s what we know about the Nats after one day of negotiating.

The Nationals have absolutely no interest in CJ Wilson.  Unless they have enough interest to offer him a 6-year deal.  It all depends on who you believe, really.  The Washington Nationals beat writers believe that Mark Buehrle is the top starting pitching target for the organization, and that there is no truth to the rumor started by @InjuryReport and supported by MLB Network Radio’s Jim Duquette that the Nationals offered Wilson a large contract, which included a 6th season.  To Wilson’s credit, he tweeted on Monday night: “Seriously laughing at all these rumors people start…it seems like unnamed sources are just reporters with itchy twitter fingers”.  You can decide for yourself who to believe on this topic…

Mark Buehrle is the Nationals top target this week.  Period.  As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported, GM Mike Rizzo would be content going into the 2012 season with Jayson Werth as the team’s starting center fielder, leaving right field open for competition for Bryce Harper, among others.

Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of news for NatsTown on Monday.  However, one thing is clear.  The Nationals and the rest of the NL East cannot allow the Miami Marlins to get many more wins this week, especially big name ones.  The Marlins signed Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, two huge free agent signings, to long-term, big-money deals, and if you believe Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the team has offered a 10-year deal to Albert Pujols.  The NL East is already the toughest division in baseball, and the Marlins are trying to make it tougher.  The Nats have to make a splash soon, or they may lose interest as one of the more interesting teams in the off-season.