Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thoughts on the way to Denver

NEW YORK -- By the time you read this, I'll hopefully be 35,000 feet in the air, making my way from New York to Denver for this weekend's four-game series at Coors Field. The Rockies were supposed to play a doubleheader yesterday against the Phillies, but Game 2 was postponed because of rain and snow. Yes, snow.

Fortunately, the forecast calls for a bit milder conditions today. Highs in the low 50s, with the temperatures dipping into the 40s around gametime. It's supposed to warm up a little more as the weekend plays out, up into the high 60s.

In the game that was played there yesterday, Roy Halladay got a no-decision for the Phillies. Why is this important? Because it leaves Tyler Clippard as the only seven-game winner in the major leagues right now. Ubaldo Jimenez (6-1) will have a chance to match Clippard tomorrow night when he squares off against Livan Hernandez, though by then Tyler could have another win for all we know.

It's really starting to border on the absurd for Clippard. He's picked up the decision, win or lose, in each of his last five appearances. That just doesn't happen to relievers. He's on pace to win 33 games by season's end. And yes, that would obliterate the major-league record for a reliever, set in 1959 by Elroy Face of the Pirates (he went 18-1).

If you were wondering (and I'm sure you were), Face got off to a similarly hot start that season. He was already 6-0 after the Pirates played their 31st game of the year (which put him one game ahead of Clippard's pace). But Face didn't earn win No. 7 until game No. 48, so Tyler's got some breathing room on him now.

Common sense says Clippard can't possibly keep up a pace anywhere close to this. Even if he continues to pitch the eighth inning two out of every three games, the odds of every game's outcome being determined in the eighth inning are minimal. Eventually, the Nats have to take an early lead (or fall behind early) and hold it. Right? Right?

Maybe not. Did you realize that this team's last eight games have all been decided by two runs or less? (The Nats are 5-3 over that span.) Yet another remarkable and unexplainable fact about this team.

Stephen Strasburg is plenty remarkable (and hardly unexplainable). You already know this by now, but the right-hander tossed six no-hit innings for Class AAA Syracuse against Norfolk (the Orioles' affiliate) last night. His overall numbers are straight out of a video game. In two starts at Syracuse, he's 2-0 with an 0.00 ERA, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out 13. In seven total starts between Syracuse and Harrisburg, he's now 5-1 with a 1.06 ERA. In 34 innings, he's allowed four earned runs and 14 hits, with a 40-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Which begs the question: What on earth is possibly left for him to accomplish in the minor leagues? In a word: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. (OK, that was four words all with the same meaning.)

In some ways, Mike Rizzo would perhaps be better off just coming out and saying the only reason Strasburg will remain in the minors for another three weeks is because it will save the organization money, probably millions of dollars. Any other justification Rizzo tries to make is pure hogwash at this point. Just come out and say it. There's no embarrassment or PR hit in doing so. Everyone understands this is how the system works. No one faults the Nationals for doing it this way. It's not cheap on their part to do it. It makes perfect business sense.

Perhaps Rizzo will have more to say about the phenom later today in Colorado. If he does, I'll be sure to pass it along.


K.D. said...

Have a safe trip Mr. Z.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

All this was hashed over in the Spring. Millions of dollars saved (the more th spend on draft and free agent signings) and, I beleive, an extra year of control. The seasoning in the minors has done him no harm and possibly some good. No need for Rizzon to say anything except when Storen is called up. The NATS, at this point, need him more than Strasburg. :)

A DC Wonk said...

I *so* disagree. There would be a *tremendous* PR hit if they admitted the obvious. Seriously. Such things are just not said. (Just like, e.g., you'd never tell a mother that her newborn baby looks ugly, even if it's true; or telling your daughter that her art project looks terrific, even though it doesn't). That's how people get along in society, saying niceties, sometimes even when you don't mean it.

The Nats would take a massive PR hit. It'd be the lead story on ESPN and on the front of the Sports Section of the Wash Post. Many sports fans outside of DC have not even heard of the kid yet. Seriously. (Quick: off the top of your head, can you name any player that was drafted by somebody other than the Nats last year? Most fans can not. Granted -- ESPN's been giving him coverage -- but there's a whole lotta baseball fans that don't watch ESPN unless their home team is being televised)

So, the Nats will mumble something about: "it's not just the pitching, we want to make sure he's accustomed to road life, to experiencing high expectations, and inconsistent umps; we want to make sure that when we bring him up he's totally mentally ready for the rigors of a long season, so that when he comes up here he's here to stay."

And sports fans (the fanatic fans) will roll their eyes and understand that this is how the game his played. And most fans outside of DC, who haven't really heard of him, will continue to be oblivious until June.

Section 222 said...

Mark, you're absolutely right. It's all about money. Yet, according to every real analysis of that question that I've seen, they aren't even saving money by doing it (actually they are losing money because of the increased attendance that SS would bring to DC this month). As I understand it, the question of free agency is over. He's played plenty in the minors already to assure team control for that extra season. As for Super 2 arbitration status, if we assume he has a 150 inning cap, he'll have to be sent back down to the minors in late August or September. So whatever number of days they lose by bringing him up now, they get back at the end of the year. Is it possible they want to take him out of the rotation a little earlier in August, and use his last 10 innings being an alternative closer in September?

Once Rizzo will admit to you that it's about money, maybe he can explain the logic because at this point it doesn't seem like the money angle demands keeping him in the minors. And, as you say, he's not going to learn any more in Syracuse. He's a man among old washed up men there.

Wally said...

Re: Strasburg, no doubt $$ are the primary reason behind the decision, but the decision was still the right one for non monetary reasons too - allowing SS to get acclimated to professional baseball outside the major league pressures is beneficial, as is allowing his arm to get conditioned to pitching every 5th day. In a perfect world, he would also get a second or third turn through the AAA league, to see what adjustments hitters make to him (and then him to their adjustments, etc), but I know that isn't going to happen.

Anonymous said...

mark, i enjoyed this post, and good work overall.

however, i feel compelled to point out your misuse of the term "begs the question," as "begging the question" is a term of art in logic, which suggests circular reasoning used in argumentation.

please see:

for example: how do i know that stephen strasburg has been dominant pitcher in the minors? because stephen strasburg dominated minor league batters while pitching in the minor leagues thus far.

no big deal, it is commonly used in the way that you used it here, just not correctly.

also: t-shirts!

Sunderland said...

It's not all about money. Just ask Mark Prior, who was Stephen Strasburg nine years ago. He did three months in the minors. At the time, he wasn't sure why he was there. Looking back, he said it was definitely the right thing to do.
Strasburg has improved in the minors. It's an obvious improvement. Altoona hit him in his first game, hit him pretty good one inning. Altoona hit him even better when they saw him again.

And the "PR hit" over this is nonsense.
It happens all the time in baseball, every years, half a dozen or more kids are called up in late May or in June.

Obviously there is a money angle. Duh. That's not news. All kinds of things happen in MLB that are influenced by money. Happens in every sport.

From every perspective, baseball, financial, doing right by Strasburg, this is the right thing to do. Let the kid finish out his time, build relationships with coaches and teammates at different levels in the minors, ride the bus, feel like he's one among many (to the extent he can) and not one above many.

Anonymous said...

There's another reason besides the Super 2 thing to keep him down as long as possible. He's going to be on a hard innings limit this season. No matter what, they will be faced with the prospect of shutting him down sometime in September. Rizzo wants that date to be as late as possible, whether they're still in the hunt then or not - but moreso if they are. Any inning pitched now is an inning not pitched in September, and realistically the only place they can limit his innings at all is in the minors. If he's pitching a six-inning no-hitter in the show, they can't pull him. If he's in a tight game in the 7th, still well under 100 pitches, they can't pull him. Even though Riggleman and Rizzo may pay lip service to the idea of not over-working him, with games on the line that will go by the wayside quick. Just look at the example of Clippard and Capps.

So if you figure that they keep him on a six inning limit in the minors, every two or three starts down there is probably buying him one more start after he comes up.

So, much as the media wants to paint this decision as being all about money, in reality it's not. There are many factors at play here.

Capitol Baseball said...

@A DC Wonk said, "Many sports fans outside of DC have not even heard of the kid yet. Seriously. (Quick: off the top of your head, can you name any player that was drafted by somebody other than the Nats last year? Most fans can not..."

I don't mean to be rude at all, but this is an absurd statement. No other team drafted what many analysts are considering the best pitching prospect in the history of baseball. Strasburg gets a significant amount of coverage on ESPN on the non-baseball related programs, let alone on Baseball Tonight where he's mentioned several times a week.

Every baseball fan has heard the name Stephen Strasburg, and everyone who follows the game closely knows that he's being held down because of money (although they may not be able to recite the exact contract reasons, they know it's true). It can't possibly harm the organization if they just say "we want to keep him on track, there's no point in rushing him, and it's going to save the club money to get more prospects in the future if we wait another 4 weeks." How can any Nats fan be mad at that?

alm1000 said...

Did anyone else hear the discussion os Strasburg on baseball tonight at 10:30 or so last night?

Shilling says (on tape I think) that when he comes up in early June, he "may be the best pitcher in baseball." No pressure, just be the best in the majors out of the box and you will meet expectations.

Can't wait until June.

A DC Wonk said...

"Every baseball fan has heard the name Stephen Strasburg, and everyone who follows the game closely ..."

Closely. That's the key. Most of the fans watching their team on TV do not follow "closely." Take my father-in-law who lives in Sarasota. He loves Tampa Bay and follows them a lot -- as well as the White Sox (or whatever team it was that just set up spring training in Sarasota.)

So, I just spoke to him on Sunday. He never heard of Strasburg.

The guy who works next to me in my office -- he's been in DC for 15 years, but is still a die-hard Phillies fan. I spoke to him last week -- he "heard of Strasburg", but that's it. He thinks Strasburg is like any other "can't miss phenom" that come along every year. He has no idea how Stasburg's been doing this year -- and this is a guy who _lives_ in DC! It's just off his radar screen.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that's a sample size of two. But let's not kid ourselves. There are many more fans like my father-in-law and my office-mate than there are fans who read blogs like this and follow phenoms from other teams. I never heard of "rookie sensation Jason Heyward" until I the Nats played the Braves last week. Yes, yes, I know, Strasburg's different. But a lot of fans hear "minor league phenom" and they stop listening to the rest of the sentence because they just don't care about minor league players from other teams.

Tony D said...

Mark, great post. The SS $ conversation is interesting but I most enjoyed the Clippard historical perspective. Enjoy Denver!

A said...

A question about Straburg:

The one time he got hit, in AA, Strasburg admitted that he immediately became insecure, and went back to his fastball and stayed with it (and then players knew what was coming, and hit him some more).

So, I've been waiting for him to get hit again, to see how he reacts. (And, really, this is one area he might need to work on). But, alas, he's only allowed, what, two singles since then?

So, one thing I did notice last night -- the second to last out was a solidly hit fly ball to just about the warning track. What did Strasburg do after that? He threw three straight fastballs and stuck out the last batter. Did he do that because he was insecure again? I dunno.

Anonymous said...

I bet Mark could care less what people think about his use of the term "begs the question."

Anonymous said...

@ A

Luckily for us, Strasburg will have a HOF catcher calling pitches and the Tao of Livo in the dugout to keep his head on straight and make sure he doesn't "become insecure" when he doesn't throw no-hitters everytime out.

K.D. said...

I don't think Rizzo needs to say anything about SS and his ticket date to the Majors. Right now he is gaining experience in the Minors, but what if one of our starters (knock-on-wood) needs to be shut down for significant time? If Rizzo hasn't committed to a specific date he can't be criticized for bringing him up before the $$$ date. This all of course depends on the Nats continuing to play well.

Anonymous said...

Have fun in Denver, there is a great BBQ joint about a block from Coors Field.

On to the topic of Stephen...he is still on a very guarded pitch count (too harsh for my tastes), imagine if the other Nats starters were on the same pitch count, most would not make it our of the 5th inning!!! We need to see how he does regularly pitching once every five days..that is what he has to prove!!! There is talk of giving him an EXTRA days rest in Syracuse..WTF!? Are we going to do that up here and throw someone on short rest just so Saint Stephen doesn't get tired! BS

Anonymous said...

"Saint Stephen" is the most important player in the organization. So, the organization is going to be VERY careful with him. Exclamation points aside, he does himself and the team no favors by trying to "prove" that he can be the next Mark Prior.

Anonymous said...

I think I somewhat disagree on the Strasburg point. I think Mike Rizzo would be the first to say there are financial considerations ... if only privately and off the record.

However, this is a team, a management structure that believes in the process associated with earning your way to the majors at each minor league rung. Unlike Bowden we have seen that Mike Rizzo and his team aren't going to promote someone because they suddenly produce gaudy stats. They are going to look at the whole package: offense, defense, and even "makeup". As everyone saw with Elijah Dukes. They seem to believe in the time honored and honed methodology associated with developing prospects in the minors.

If you think about it MIke Rizzo has always said he would do what is best for both the prospect and the franchise. I imagine that giving Strasburg a "free pass" to the majors might not engender as much respect among his teammates, and coaches for that matter as he has by pitching in the minors? Riding those busses. Listening and applying the pointers he has been given along the way?

Its important for both Stras, and his catcher Ivan Rodriguez, to believe that he has earned his spot.

So, yes the financial considerations are there and are obvious. Still there is another aspect of this ... perhaps a very valuable one that you might be denigrating ... perhaps even demean? I truly believe Mike Rizzo is serious when he says he wants players to master each and every level in the minors.

Perhaps Stephen Strasburg has done that. But has Drew Storen? I'm not so sure ... so perhaps Stephen Strasburg needs to pitch in those five games just to be careful, just to be sure.

Meanwhile, every starter in the rotation on the major league club has to go out and pitch like there's no tomorrow or lose their slot to Stephen Strasburg.

So, they get better, in some cases a lot better. And he gets better, well rounded, and respected. Seems like a win-win at this point?

A said...

"Luckily for us, Strasburg will have a HOF catcher calling pitches and the Tao of Livo in the dugout to keep his head on straight and make sure he doesn't "become insecure" when he doesn't throw no-hitters everytime out."

Yep! Amen for that.

This is pretty darn exciting, eh?

Anonymous said...

Does Strasburg golf?? If so maybe his first off day he should get a tee time with Livo and they can talk pitching for 18 holes!

SilverSpring8 said...


"Any inning pitched now is an inning not pitched in September, and realistically the only place they can limit his innings at all is in the minors."


Well said.

yankish2 said...

I was a young lad growing up in Pittsburgh when Roy Face won his 18 games in a season. 1959 was before the closer role developed for relief pitchers. Many games, Elroy pitched 2 or 3 innings to get the win/save. He was a little guy with a rubber arm. The next season was even better! Beat 'em, Bucs.

Anonymous said...

he's been in DC for 15 years, but is still a die-hard Phillies fan. I spoke to him last week -- he "heard of Strasburg", but that's it.

I suspect Fanatics and just plain Phillies fans will all come to well know ... and hate Strasburg ... very, very soon.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment on the "begs the question" discussion. First, I was going to make the same correction as Anon 932. Great catch Anon 932 (as an Anon guy, I promise I'm not complimenting my own post!)

Then someone wrote in to say he couldn't care less about the use or misuse of the phrase. I disagree.

People visit this board because they want the incredible quality of writing Mark provides. On a story a couple of weeks ago, reader afer reader wrote in to say it was one of the finest things they'd read in years. It worked at very high levels of intellectualism, literacy, and culture.

So I want this to be a site I can visit where readers can have fun with the use of the English language (as I did about a month ago, teasing Mark for his use of the term, "countrymate.")

The first "beg the question" comment was not only correct, but it was fun, done in a light-hearted way, and totally appropriate for a baseball site that values both baseball and writing.

Steve M. said...

This Strasburg conversation has been debated and debated. Rizzo won't derivate from the PLAN. Stras will make 2 to 3 more starts in the Minors and then probably soak up a day or 2 on the bench for the Nats before they have him out for a sell-out crowd. I am hoping June 4th, 2010!

Storen will probably make the trip with him. It was nice watching the game last night.

I watched MLB Network "Live" all night and they preempted every part of the show to broadcast all of Strasburg's innings live. It was great and hearing them glow about him was reassuring. The 4 broadcasters at the MLB desk had to talk over the TV broadcasters at the game which was a little odd, but worth all the chatter. The point from the MLB analysts was that Strasburg needed that 5th day repetition and build his confidence.

I also saw Schilling's comments about Stras on ESPN.

What I have seen is a young pitcher who has shown great improvement especially in his use of his changeup and locations. With Pudge working with him, this could make this a summer to remember in Washington.

Steve M. said...

This video is from the Team north on the BW Parkway.

5/12/10: Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail addresses fans in regards to the 2010 season.

Watch the first 20 seconds of this video where he uses words like Horrendous, terribly problematic, and miserable.

If the Lerner's were to ever expand the fanbase, now would be the time. With a winning record and Strasburg on his way, there are many disenchanted O's fans especially the ones living in Howard County, Anne Arundel and other fringe areas that aren't far from Nationals Park.

Traveler 8 said...

Actually, Anon 12:23, Anon 10:25 did not say that Mark "couldn't care less" he said that Mark "could care less", which, of course, implies that Mark cares a lot - and Mark probably does, being a writer, care about the proper use of a phrase.

However, I agree with your sentiment, Anon 12:23, and we language nazis want everyone to know that if they mean to say that they don't care, they should say "couldn't care less". I thought the point about "begs the question" was pretty interesting.

Also want to say that I thought Mark's article was thoughtful, and as usual, I came away knowing more about baseball than before. Thanks, Mark!

A DC Wonk said...

"If the Lerner's were to ever expand the fanbase, now would be the time. With a winning record and Strasburg on his way..."

Yep -- and it looks like there is not a single tough opponent in *all* of June . . . that's the time to beef up the win column, and fan base, all headed into a July 4 weekend at home with the Mets.

Richard said...

Thoughts on Mark's way to Denver -- Kinda pitiful that Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse was only half full for a game when the Chiefs are in first place, Strasburg is on the mound, and a fun team is playing. Why are the Nats in Syracuse?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"I bet Mark could care less what people think about his use of the term 'begs the question.'"

I'm pretty sure you're wrong, but if not, I bet we could change that. We can make *everyone* sorry he ever brought it up.

Not that we would. I'm just sayin.

Steve M. said...

"Richard said...
Thoughts on Mark's way to Denver -- Kinda pitiful that Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse was only half full for a game when the Chiefs are in first place, Strasburg is on the mound, and a fun team is playing. Why are the Nats in Syracuse?"

...and not to mention the Nationals sent up the Racing Presidents to Syracuse!

The Great Unwashed said...

Anon 9:32 and Anon 12:20,

Are you guys serious? Mark has provided us this great baseball coverage (for free, mind you) plus the ability for his readers to comment, and all you want to do is nitpick his use of "begs the question?" And on top of it, you both posted anonymously. Wow.

Steve M. said...

Read about that Aaron Crow who got knocked around soundly in his last start in AA.

Guess he won't be seeing the Majors any time soon.

Mark Zuckerman said...

You guys crack me up! Thanks for teaching me about "begs the question" -- I never knew that phrase was incorrect. But I do know that I COULDN'T care less about it! ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Great Unwashed.

I want to complement you're grate common cents. Awl wee wont is for the massage to be rite. Tell us weather the team's win or loose. Were knot hear to bee taut witch udderances suite Great Unwashed.

David said...

hypothetical question, it's august and the nats are around .500 a few games up in the wildcard chase, and all of our starters are healthy: Livo, Olsen, Lannan, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Wang, Marquis, Stammen, Atilano, and Chico. Who do we trade? Who do we keep in AAA/AA? There's no way we trade Marquis with his contract and production. I see one of the productive veterans Livo/Olsen getting packaged and traded for a right fielder. Even though I'd keep both of them out of loyalty. My ideal rotation for september would be Strasburg, Livo, Olsen, Zimmermann, Lannan. But I fear it will look more like Strasburg, Zimmermann, Marquis, Lannan, Wang.

Brian R. said...

Somebody commented something like "Also, T-shirts!" and I don't know why they said it, but it made me wonder: any chance you'll be selling Nats Insider T-shirts online somewhere? Cafepress?

Anonymous said...

"Thoughts on Mark's way to Denver -- Kinda pitiful that Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse was only half full for a game when the Chiefs are in first place, Strasburg is on the mound, and a fun team is playing. Why are the Nats in Syracuse?"

1) it was cold yesterday in Syracuse that never aids in getting people to any park, just ask anyone there on May 9th how the wind affected attendance in NatsTown!

2) it was a weekday versus a weekend. Go to any minor or major league ballpark during the week and tell me that attendence is the same during the week as it is on the weekends, even Yankees Stadium has a lot less people attending during the week than they do on the weekends.

There is a great history of minor league ball in Syracuse and I know from talking to folks up there that there are more people going to Chiefs game with SS there then there would be without him there.

Souldrummer said...

There are a lot of ifs ands and buts about us actually having surplus come August. First, remember that Strasburg is going to hit his innings ceiling by the end of August and we're going to want to have a quality arm to replace him in the rotation. Let's assume for the moment that's Marquis.

Second, I don't think that they are going to put Zimmermann in the major league rotation this year. He might get some bullpen time by September callups, but I don't think anyone in the organization is counting on him.

So I think we're still looking at Livo, Olsen, Lannan as rotation pieces. I don't think we're in a position to be fully confident in Stammen or Atilano yet despite their success so far. So you're looking basically at Wang and Detweiler being your possible extra boost kind of guys.

I think for the organization it's a choice between trading Olsen or trading Detweiler for a significant piece if they want to boost the RF situation. At the beginning of the year, I was with FJB as an Olsen disbeliever. I've read some stuff about how he's learning how not to be so dependent on a subpar fastball to pitch better and I'm thinking he may be a known quantity by that point. If so, Detweiler's the guy to trade potentially. He's a high risk, high reward guy given the mechanical issues he's had in the past but he's a lefty with potentially good stuff. I think there would be more interest in other teams from him and you wonder if a team like the Royals might be ready to consider parting with David DeJesus (one of the names I've heard kicked around) for a lefty with 2/3 rotation potential that's affordable for a while to come.

We say that we can do this deal because we'd have homegrown products Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Lannan fronting the rotation with possibly Stammen and Atilano for the back end and with Marquis and Wang as credible 4/5 options for next year.

Always curious to know what people think on these and other roster issues.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Thanks souldrummer. I was thinking more old-school when it comes to Strasburg, that if we're in the playoff hunt he will stay in rotation, innings total be damned. But taking him and Zmann out of the rotation makes sense at the end of the season. If we miraculously make the playoffs I guess we'll be looking at Marquis, Lannan, Livo, Olsen, and Wang in October, and if Marquis isn't ready we'll add either Chico/Atilano/Detwiler. I still think Rizzo has a lot of tough choices to make as the season goes forward about how to stock the rotation. Some questions marks include how well Marquis comes back from surgery and how Wang looks in his AAA rehab starts. Also, Lannan looks like he might be having health issues too. I'm worried about him. We'll see tonight...

greg said...

zimmermann won't get *INTO* the rotation until the end of the season. think september for him start. late august at the very earliest. he won't be hitting an innings cap.

Anonymous said...

Wow, our B relievers are horrible. Burnett can't get out a left-handed hitter, his only job. Everyone hits against Bruney. And Batista just gives up homers.

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