Friday, November 16, 2012

Catching up after an eventful week

Associated Press photo
Davey Johnson and Bryce Harper each won major BBWAA awards this week.
And so I have returned from my week-long respite. Mrs. Z and I had a wonderful time on our vacation, thanks for asking. But it's time to get back to the daily grind, and I see there was plenty of Nationals news in my absence.

The manager finally has a contract for 2013. He's got a new coach on his staff, as well, not to mention a new piece of hardware for his mantel. As does the no-longer-19-year-old outfielder. The 21-game-winning left-hander, was not as fortunate.

So let's rehash the major events of the last week...

Not that there was ever any doubt this would get done, but it's nice to finally have some resolution to this lingering issue. Johnson and the Nationals agreed late last week to a new contract that ensures he'll return as manager in 2013 ... but then ensures he won't return in 2014.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised Davey came right out and said next season will be his last. I didn't think he'd want to manage more than one year, but I suspected he'd at least leave the door open just in case. I mean, what if the Nats reach Game 7 of the World Series and then lose? Are you telling me Johnson wouldn't want to take one more shot at glory? Evidently not.

Given all that, two thoughts: 1) How motivated is Davey going to be to try to win it all in 2013? Very. 2) How many sets of eyes will be on Randy Knorr over the next year, trying to determine if the popular bench coach really is ready to ascend to the managerial position in 2014? Plenty.

Stop for a moment and contemplate this: When Harper made his big-league debut on April 28 at Dodger Stadium, would you have predicted he'd wind up winning Rookie of the Year? Perhaps there was some thought he could achieve this, but no one really knew how the 19-year-old would perform in his first trial at this level.

What Harper did accomplish was noting short of remarkable. It wasn't just the 22 homers, 98 runs scored, 57 extra-base hits, 18 steals and eight outfield assists. It was that he took his game to an entirely new level in September while the Nationals were in the midst of a pennant race and often was the best player on the best team in baseball.

History is littered with one-hit-wonder Rookies of the Year who never amounted to much else after their award-winning debut performances. Something tells me that's not going to be the case here. Harper only scratched the surface this season, and there's really no limit to what he could do in 2013 and beyond.

This was probably the easiest selection out of all the BBWAA awards this year. (OK, aside from Mike Trout as AL Rookie of the Year.) With all due respect to Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy (the other finalists), Johnson was unquestionably the manager of the year in the NL.

This award almost always goes to the guy who's team most exceeded expectations over the course of a season. And certainly the Nationals exceeded expectations. But Davey deserved the honor for much more than that.

Let's not forget just how many injuries devastated the lineup through most of 2012. And let's not forget what a masterful job Johnson did in helping his team overcome those injuries. He wasn't afraid to play unproven rookies, even if they were out of position. He wasn't afraid to tinker with his bullpen roles when the situation called for it. And he once again proved to be the ultimate player's manager, understanding how best to communicate and relate with everybody on his roster.

Though he was named a finalist last week, Gonzalez didn't really seem to stand a chance against R.A. Dickey, who wound up winning the award with 27 of 32 first-place votes. That's taking nothing away from Gio, who had a fantastic season and deserved his top three finish.

I had a Cy Young vote this year, and I had Gonzalez second on my ballot behind Dickey. (I had Clayton Kershaw third, Craig Kimbrel fourth and Johnny Cueto fifth.) My reasons for selecting Dickey ahead of Gonzalez? There were many.

In addition to his 20-6 record and 2.73 ERA, Dickey led the NL in innings (233), complete games (five), strikeouts (230), quality starts (27) and a category I call "dominant starts" (two or fewer earned runs allowed over seven or more innings). Dickey had 18 of those, tops in the NL. Gio only had eight.

Dickey also had the fewest "bad" starts in the league, failing to complete five innings only twice. (Gonzalez failed to do it six times.)

Now, you can certainly make the case that Gonzalez pitched all season in the thick of a pennant race while Dickey pitched for a 74-win team. Shouldn't Gio get extra credit for pitching in far more pressure-packed games? Yes, and I did give him extra credit for that. But it wasn't enough to topple Dickey's complete resume. In the end, I would say Dickey deserved the Cy Young because of his consistent dominance over the entire season. Gonzalez was occasionally dominant, but not on nearly as regular a basis as the New York knuckleballer.

The Nationals had one vacancy on their coaching staff following Bo Porter's departure to Houston, where he'll get his first career shot to manage. Though the initial thought was that they'd simply hire a new third base coach, there was the potential all along to hire a first base coach instead and shift Trent Jewett to the other side of the diamond.

Jewett has plenty of experience coaching at third base. He spent three seasons there with the Pirates (2000-02), not to mention 10 seasons as a Class AAA manager (a job that includes third base coaching duties in its description).

Tarasco's addition to the big-league staff certainly makes sense. He had been serving as the organization's roving outfield instructor and was influential in helping Harper learn his new position. He'll continue to work with Harper on a daily basis now, as well as take over the Nationals' baserunning duties.

Nobody expected the veteran first baseman to win the whole thing -- that honor went to Buster Posey, and deservedly so -- but it was nice to see the rest of the baseball-writing world recognize just how much LaRoche meant to the Nats this year. He actually received more fifth-place votes (six) than any other, but wound up settling for a sixth-place tie with David Wright (behind Posey, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina and Chase Headley).

Can't find fault with the way the top five shook out, nor with the fact three other Nationals received top-10 MVP votes. Ian Desmond finished tied for 16th, named on six of the 32 ballots. Gonzalez actually finished tied for 20th despite appearing on only two ballots (one voter had him fifth). Ryan Zimmerman finished tied for 24th (also received one fifth-place vote). And Harper finished tied for 30th, receiving one ninth-place vote.


NatsLady said...

In a story about the AFL Stenson award (Cole Kimball among the nominees), this was posted.

A year ago last August, 2010 winner, Steve Lombardozzi, playing for the Syracuse Chiefs, met Darnell Stenson's son, who lives in Syracuse. The following is from a Syracuse Post-Standard article about their time together:
...So imagine Lombardozzi’s surprise when, several months later and minutes before the start of a game, he found himself looking into the eyes of a 9-year-old boy named Kobe Stenson. The man in the stands turned out to be Kobe’s grandfather, Bob Richards...Kobe Stenson, decked out in his Salt City Little League All-Star jersey, watched the Chiefs batting practice prior to a game against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Once batting practice ended, Lombardozzi
walked over and shook hands with Stenson and his friend, Sammy Sgroi.

After a short game of catch on the field, Lombardozzi took the two boys to the Chiefs’ indoor batting cage. They hit off a tee to warm up and then Lombardozzi served up some pitches to both Stenson and Sgroi. The pair took turns ripping line drives past Lombardozzi to the back of the cage.
Lombardozzi is still a class act and he was a key player, off the bench and as a spot starter, for Washington, the team with the best record in baseball, this year. We're privileged to have had him and many other current Nats with us for a time in Syracuse.

Unknown said...

Davey proved he was MLB's best manager in the way he handled the team after their blown 9-0 lead loss to Atlanta - he had a young team that, under a lesser manager, would have collapsed and missed the playoffs. The opposite occurred and Atlanta, after one more win, got left in the Nats' rear view mirror. An absolutely masterful job by the future Hall of Famer!

Now, he has an equally tough task - getting his team to overcome an excruciating and really inexcusable loss in G5, NLDS and helping them reach the next level at least - the NLCS, while playing with focus and composure. There's no better man for the job than Davey Johnson!

Joe Seamhead said...

The post season awards were much like the overall success for the team for 2012 in that it was mainly unexpected outside of Nats Nation. Johnson getting the MOY was not a surprise to me though, as I predicted it before the season even started. The day Davey agreed to manage the Nats was the day that the fortunes of the entire National League East shifted. I knew that we had just been upgraded to having the best manager in the division, and that unlike the previous manager, he would get not just the individuals to play to their maximum potential, but would also get same out of the team as a unit. When one takes into consideration the results that were accomplished with all of the injuries it is even more remarkable.
As to Bryce Harper, to really comprehend what kind of a season he had you pretty much had to have been there to have seen his input day in and day out. The kid is a National treasure!
Next year's successful run to the World Series would sure be a lot easier with ALR's return. Sorry to repeat myself, but Adam is in great condition and could still excel at first, and at the plate, for three more years. Sign him, and pay him, Mr Lerner. He is a major reason why Ian's errors went down, along with the rest of the infielders. By not giving opponents extra outs our pitching staff is effectively much better. I don't think anybody else in the organization gives you his dependability at first, nor is there anybody available outside either.
If ALR is re-signed this team is capable of excelling again as is,though I doubt that Mike Rizzo will sit pat. With Davey at the helm, and with a tweak here and a tweak there, this team can go all the way, with some good fortune health wise.

Positively Half St. said...

At the end of the season I felt sure that the Nats would sign Michael Bourn, and unfortunately trade the Beast. This may well still happen, but it doesn't seem quite as likely anymore, somehow, and I get the feeling that Rizzo is going to pull off something that is off everybody's radar.

He has earned our trust, so I hope he is able to carry out his plans.


Gonat said...

Mark is baaaaaaack!

natsfan1a said...

Welcome back, Mark! Glad to hear that you and Mrs. Z had a nice vacation.

Also glad that Adam got some MVP recognition (and, yay, Buster! Oops, sorry about that last part. :-)).

We are the Nationals said...

Welcome back, NI czar!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Mark, were you part of the Nike Baseball trip to St. Kitts? I think I saw you in some of the photos. (Wink)

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed that both Washington chapter writers, including you Mark, didn't vote for Gio. The stats were close, Gio won more games, and Gio (as well as Kershaw) was pitching to win games to get their teams into the playoffs while Dickey was accumulating stats and orchestrating when he pitched to pad his own record on a 4th place team. The Mets easily finish 4th without Dickey but the Nats do not win the Division without Gio. Gio's numbers in September were also better than Dickey's. I know many disagree with this, but in no way do I believe that RA Dickey was the best pitcher in the NL in 2012. Not even close. At least you put Gio second. Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, an allegedly Washington chapter writer, placed him fifth. Yeesh.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Like the "dominant starts" and "bad starts" stats. "Quality starts" has always been completely bogus. Unfortunately, for Gonzalez, Mark's stats stand out as glaring deficiencies to which he needs to pay serious attention. Really? In nearly 20 percent of his starts he can't go five?

Normally I give more credence to Wins than the sabre-geeks, because in my view the starting pitcher's first job is to at least leave the game with the lead. However, those numbers suggest that, with a non-playoff team, Gonzalez would have been lucky to win 16-17, and he will have to improve this year (2013) if he hopes to approach 20 wins again.

SonnyG10 said...

Welcome back Mark. Hope you and Mrs Z really enjoyed your vacation. Chase did a fine job in your absence, but its great to have the master back at the helm.

Traveler8 said...

4571, come on, it is ludicrous to look at Dickey pitching well only to pad his own record - it has to be a lot more motivating to be pitching for a team that is likely to make the playoffs than for one that slim to no chance - not to mention that a better team also provides better field support. I loved watching Gio pitch this year, but Dickey's performance was amazing and was suitably rewarded.

NatsLady said...

Normally I give more credence to Wins than the sabre-geeks, because in my view the starting pitcher's first job is to at least leave the game with the lead.

Gio left Game 5 with a 3-run lead, but got blasted on here for pointing that out. It wasn't his best day, but it wasn't his worst, either.

NatsLady said...

Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon reached base three times and Rockies outfielder Kent Matthes hit a grand slam in the Rafters seven-run outburst on Thursday. Rendon is now hitting .338 on the fall and has walked 15 times in 22 games.

The "championship" AFL game will be on Nov. 17, 1:10 p.m. MST (MLB Network) Scottsdale Stadium.

OK, I guess I'm keeping my cable box until Monday...

SCNatsFan said...

4571, I actually applaud the home town writers who vote for who they think should win and aren't just homers. While I was roting for Gio I thought RA, all things considered and with the team he is on, deserved it more.

NatsLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theophilus T. S. said...

NatsLady --

I said leaving the game with the lead is the pitcher's first job, but not his only job. None of the others includes crumbling like a stale vanilla wafer in the fifth.

NatsLady said...

Went to the Nats store yesterday. The deals are even better than advertised. All postseason tees are $10 (were $30) and postseason hoodies are $20 (were $88). Yes, they left Zach Duke's name off the list.

Also got a Nats dish for my kitty. We are trying to lose weight together.

Theo, I wasn't happy with Gio in the playoffs. But, bottom line, he left with a lead. All of the pitchers, including Stras, will learn a lot from that experience--enough is never enough.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Mark said...Dickey also had the fewest "bad" starts in the league, failing to complete five innings only twice. (Gonzalez failed to do it six times.)

That's an interesting stat and it goes back to Gio's biggest issue which is high pitch count and I have written even yesterday about what Gio should be doing to improve. There were some other starts like Game 5 of the playoffs that I don't think he should have come out for the 5th inning of that game as he started struggling with command and 'tude in the 4th and I have seen that movie a few times before.

Davey sometimes wanted his starters to get the W and go the full 5, but I say you put T before I in that old saying there is no "I" in TEAM but some say there is "ME" in TEAM so what do I know.

Anyway, it was clear to me who the 4 best pitchers were in the NL and the 5th I would have recognized Jordan Zimmermann who was 7th in NL pitcher rankings. Since guys like Cole Hamels (ranked 8th) got votes and Lohse got votes, I would have thought someone would have recognized JZim before Hamels.

Section 222 said...

Thanks for the heads up and reminder about the discounts at the team store NL. Did you happen to notice whether the selection is still decent, or is it all size S and XXXL?

NatsLady said...

Section 222, the selection is decent, and they had unopened boxes. I had no problem getting Mediums/Larges (depending on the item). I have a feeling they manufactured a lot more "postseason" stuff than they sold in the truncated postseason... In the back there was one "Mission October" tee that said World Series 2012... No takers for that one.

Section 222 said...

Good point. If we had won G5, there would have been at least two more home games to sell all that stuff. If I remember correctly, the hats were over $30, but I'll be happy to pick one up at a discount. Thanks again.

Don said...

Giving a guy extra credit for pitching in a Division chase does not seem right. The Nats were a very good club, with a very good pen and they won a lot of games. And something like 10 NL teams were playing for their lives down the stretch. If anything, it seems that Dickey should get extra credit for not ever getting to face his own terrible club!

NatsLady said...

Postseason hats are $10, same as the tees.

Section 222 said...

I, too, like the "dominant" and "bad" start stats. It's too bad that 7 or more innings and 2 runs or less isn't the standard for "quality." But with pitch count limitations, 6 innings is going to be the max for most pitchers, even if they pitch well.

The thing is that 3 runs per 6 innings works out to a 4.50 ERA, which I think most people view as "meh", not "quality."

Has anyone analyzed what percentage of "quality starts" end up being team wins? If it's less than 2/3, that would be another reason to reevaluate the stat.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

For those looking for Nats deals online, MLB is doing an online pre-Black Friday sale on store. $9.99 for Nats BP caps and 40% off Harper and Werth BP jerseys that are $59 after the markdown, and for those that like the real Majestic authentics, 40% all the star players on-the-field jerseys although the regular prices of $250 brings you down to a hefty $150 but that's where I did my shopping this morning. The material of the jerseys isn't the heavy knit, its that CoolBase material which is great for warm weather.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sec222, you are on point again. Quality start has to be 2 earned runs or less over 6 innings or 3 or less earned runs for 7 innings so if you have 3 runs in 6 innings and are able to go through 7 innings with those 3 earned, that is a good start and should put your team in good position for a W.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

My reasoning above of 3 runs over 7 innings is a 3.86 ERA and with a good bullpen generally gives your team a very good chance to win.

A 6 inning 2 run game is a 3.00 ERA and the bullpen has to go 3 innings which is still a good chance of winning.

Of course if your defense isn't good and gives up unearned runs, the W doesn't look as probable.

MicheleS said...

Also a Note on those shopping at the team store:

Washington Nationals‏@Nationals

Join @S_Lombo1 & his dad Saturday at the #Nats Team Store at Tyson's Corner Center from 1p-2p for #Sandy relief efforts

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Here's the online link for the jerseys sale

Don said...

Thanks Ghost!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

This is the best deal. These authentic BP caps have the stretch material and for $9.99 vs $27 regular price is a really good deal. I bought 3 caps and with shipping came to $35

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Don, you are welcome.

MicheleS, wish I was in town to make that trip to see Lombo and the great charitable endeavor! By the way, I do stalk most of you on Twitter and Michele is hilarious. That McDonalds tweeter had me rolling.

MicheleS said...

Ghost. If you are on twitter, let me know.

And yes, the McDonalds stuff was funny, Still don't know if I will ever eat in front of SOME of the boys on this site.

NatsLady said...

The Mets announced that they signed utility player Brian Bixler to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to Spring Training (Twitter link). Octagon represents Bixler, who spent the 2012 season with the Astros.

Bixler appeared in 36 games with Houston, playing second base, third base, shortstop and both corner outfield positions. The 30-year-old posted a .193/.253/.330 batting line in 96 plate appearances. Bixler, who also has MLB experience with the Nationals and Pirates, has a .279/.356/.401 batting line in six seasons at the Triple-A level.


Ghost Of Steve M. said...

MicheleS, I have an account but its locked. I just use it to stalk and haven't posted. I fought the popular opinion that Tweeter was good and never went on and then gave in as the news breaks there quickly and once I got used to it, its easy to follow. I just have nothing to say in 140 spaces. Everything I have to say takes at least 300.

McDonalds, too funny. You would eat in front of me, you just wouldn't stick your posterior out like that woman but I heard you are a beautiful young lady so why fret. Me on the other hand, I have a face for radio and best to have a bag on my head.

MicheleS said...

Good for Bixler. At least he is still playing.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Everything has slowed on the Justin Upton front but I hear his brother BJ is on the BJU World Tour. Atlanta and Philly and his agent wants the world to know plus BJ says he would love to stay in Tampa. How nice for BJ.

The big question is will BJ make a stop to see Mike Rizzo?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

You have to like Bixler and I'm surprised he didn't hold out longer for a better deal but maybe he thinks he has a chance to make the Mets team.

NatsLady said...

If Bixler could hit even a little he would be very useful on a lot of teams... Love to watch him play.

NatsLady said...

Davey was on the radio yesterday. I didn't hear it, but there is a write-up. Apparently, he still believes in Henry Rodriguez (ducking).

Davey on MLB network

Section 222 said...

Bixler is versatile, has great speed and plays hard. Unfortunately, he can't hit. I liked the guy, but I'm really glad the Nats have moved will past the point where he has a chance to make the team.

Ghost, 2 runs over 6, or 3 runs over 7 makes a lot more sense as a "quality" start. Too bad the current formulation is probably with us to stay.

Of course, the FP formulation -- a quality start is if you win -- is still and will always be absurd.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsLady, Henry will have a fair shot to make the team or traded to Bo Porter.

MicheleS said...

Mark are you going to the Winter Meetings?

Faraz Shaikh said...

didn't he go last year?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsLady, thanks for the link. Even though Bryce wouldn't never admit to being in a slump when asked by the media, Davey nailed it and it started after that Yankees series:

"And he put himself in that slump this season," Johnson added, "Because what happened [was] he was doing pretty good and he wanted to do better, so he tried harder. And they kind of baited him. They didn't throw anything over and he chased. And then he realized he was making a mistake. He made adjustments. He's a smart young man for 19, and he's going to only get better."

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

From Anthony Rendon on adjusting at the higher levels:

"I learned, 'Yeah, these pitchers know what they're doing at the higher levels,'" Rendon said. "They can place the ball where they want; they don't throw the obvious pitches they would have thrown in college.

"They're actually mixing it up. They're actually pitching now. They are a lot smarter now. Obviously at the higher level, they're more likely to be older and wiser."

Doc said...

It appears from a side blog that B.J. Upton has talked to the Nats.

Nats are waiting for ALR to clear the roster air.

Hmmmm, juxtaposing ALR and B.J. doesn't look like much of a hard choice.

Of course, it's possible we don't end up with either!

Laddie Blah Blah said...

"Lombardozzi is still a class act and he was a key player, off the bench and as a spot starter, for Washington, the team with the best record in baseball, this year.

Terrific story. The Nats are a team loaded with class acts, starting with Davey down to the last guy on the bench.

Post a Comment