Please Stop The Phrase “Battle of the Beltways”

Now that the Nationals / O’s series in over (I know there is still a game on the 4th,), there is one thing that really bothers me about the coverage.  The marketing phrase “The Battle of the Beltways” is stupid for quite a few reasons.

You may think this is an overreaction, but a Google search turns up 29,100 results for “battle of the beltways.”  The phase was spouted by MASN over the last few days like they got a nickel every time it was used or it was part of a subversive drinking game to ensure regional inebriation.   Please make it stop.

It is the bastardization of the original marketing line “Beltway Series.” The only problem, Baltimore is not on the Capital Beltway.  So,  someone realized that Baltimore has a road they call the beltway so they just added a “s” and kept the phase.  The new phrase doesn’t even make sense.  How do two roads battle?

“The Beltway” is a phrase used to describe the road that goes around DC.  It is a pop culture idiom to describe things that happen in the Federal Government.  It’s a phrase used  on the nightly news and nickname used by political insiders. It is a world-wide phrase associated with the Nations Capital.  Nobody outside of Dundalk knows there is a road that goes around Baltimore or much cares.  “Battle of the Beltways gives way to much credit to a city whose claim to fame is being the subject of a very good HBO show about their corruption and a cheaper place to film movies and TV shows about Washington, DC.  I am sure they use the phrase Beltway like a little brother says “me too.”

I wouldn’t really care, but It looks like the name is becoming permanent and there needs to stop. Ironically the phrase “Battle for the Beltway” would be more appropriate considering how much the O’s covet the Washington DC area as a fan base.  Than again the Nats only exist due to the kindness of Angelos, right, Buck “get in the bleeping box” Showalter?

Nats Contract Recoup Tracker: Believe it or not Werth is on track to earn his contract this year

A little over half way through the season every Nats starter but Zimmerman has already or is on track to recoup their contract.  As far a Harper goes, he is not even close to playing at replacement level yet.

Player Salary WAR Value % Recoup Game
Rendon $2,700,000 3.1 $18,600,000 689% -
Werth $20,571,429 1.9 $11,400,000 55% 157
Desmond $6,500,000 1.6 $9,600,000 148% 59
Span $6,500,000 1.4 $8,400,000 129% -
LaRoche $12,000,000 1.3 $7,800,000 65% 134
Ramos $2,095,000 1.2 $7,200,000 344% -
Zimmerman $14,000,000 0.7 $4,200,000 30% 290
Espinosa $540,850 0.3 $1,800,000 333% -
Hairston $2,500,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -24% -
McLouth $5,000,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -12% -
Lobaton $950,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -63% -
Frandsen $900,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -67% -
Harper $2,150,000 -0.4 -$2,400,000 -112% -

Jason Hammel tells his manager how to do his job, nobody cares

The unnecessary drama surrounding Bryce Harper this week was put into perspective by Cubs starter Jason Hammel, who was pulled from today’s 7-2 victory over the Nats after just six innings and 92 pitches. Hammel told the media after the game:

“I would have liked to have stayed out there in the seventh. I have no idea why I came out of the game.”

By any definition, this is “telling a manager how to do his job,” the same charge repeatedly leveled against Bryce Harper after he told the media he’d like to see Ryan Zimmerman stay in left field. Yet, we are unlikely to see Hammel’s comments on Sportscenter and Baseball Tonight. We’re equally unlikely to see the Chicago version of Tom Boswell write an entire column how Hammel needs to be a more “mature teammate,” just as we are unlikely to see the Chicago version of Mike Wise (God help us if there’s another Mike Wise out there) write a column how Hammel is acting like he’s 12.

We are likely, however, to continue receiving almost daily reminders there are two standards for Major League Baseball players: a standard for Bryce Harper and a standard for everyone else.

Harper has been living with this reality since even before he became a professional player. Considering all the circumstances, he’s actually doing pretty well. Since no one else seems likely to cut the kid some slack, maybe Nationals fans can be the ones to do it. He might appreciate it.

wRC+ Says LaRoche and Rendon Should be All-Stars This Year, but they won’t be

The Nationals have two viable position player All-Star candidates if you look at the team through the lens of wRC+ which uses weighted on base average and adjusts for park effect.

Adam LaRoche is tied for the best hitting 1st Baseman in the NL this year.  Goldschmidt leads in the voting after his near MVP season last year. ALR doesn’t even make the top five in voting.  This is a shame because the guy is having such a good year.

Name Team wRC+
Adam LaRoche Nationals 154
Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 154
Freddie Freeman Braves 149
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 147
Matt Adams Cardinals 136

Adam LaRoche has been remarkably consistent this year too.  His wRC+ has stayed about 155 of 55% better than the average MLB all year.  He has avoided the hot and cold streaks that have defined his career so far.

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Rendon is an interesting case,  He has played most of the year at 3rd but is listed on the ballot as a 2nd baseman.  David Wright is the leading vote getter at 3rd and if the world is right Todd Frazier will make the team also, but Rendon is a solid #2.

Name Team wRC+
Todd Frazier Reds 140
Anthony Rendon Nationals 127
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 123
Luis Valbuena Cubs 120
Casey McGehee Marlins 118

Now the story gets interesting when you look at 2nd.  Chase Utley leading the vote, but he isn’t even in the top 5 hitters according to wRC+. Rendon is the run away best hitting 2nd baseman in the NL and if things are right with the world he will be representing the Nats at Target Field.  Unfortunately, I suspect bigger name players like Neil Walker or a big market player like Dee Gordon with all his stolen bases to make it.  (BTW I am not sure what a Scooter Gennett is, but from what I can tell he is a platoon player that only plays against right handed pitchers.)

Name Team wRC+
Scooter Gennett Brewers 128
Anthony Rendon Nationals 127
Daniel Murphy Mets 121
Luis Valbuena Cubs 120
Neil Walker Pirates 120

 

Why do Bryce Harper’s comments bother you?

So, you’re upset about Bryce Harper’s comments.

One question: why do you care?

Ryan Zimmerman didn’t care, or least didn’t appear to when he ripped 3 base hits including 2 doubles. Adam LaRoche didn’t appear to care when he hit his 12th home run of the season. And Ian Desmond definitely didn’t care when Bryce Harper’s imposing presence in the lineup allowed him to get a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the 6th inning yesterday after Harper was intentionally walked. Desmond didn’t seem too perturbed when he was standing on second after clearing the bases, pointing towards the dugout in celebration, Harper back at him.

No, these are big boys and they’re professionals. They have opinions and sometimes they share them. There are disagreements in the clubhouse, like any workplace. But collectively, it didn’t seem like the Bryce Harper Clubhouse Cancer had quite metastasized. They’re just happy to have Harper back in the lineup. He makes them a better team.

Perhaps you care because Harper’s comments were negative towards Denard Span. While not mentioning Span, by suggesting Zim in left and himself in center, Bryce was certainly implying Denard should be moved to the bench.

And while there’s no proof Zimmerman and Desmond were bothered by Harper’s comments, Span didn’t have a particularly good game. He went 0-3 and missed his best RBI opportunity on the night, meekly popping out to shortstop with runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out in the third inning.

But, then again, maybe that’s just who Denard Span is. After all, Span is the player with a whopping one home in 335 plate appearances and a .312 on base percentage despite batting first in the order. Despite Danny Espinosa’s struggles, maybe it’s not so unreasonable to suggest a Harper-CF, Zimmerman-LF, Rendon-3B, Espinosa-2B lineup is the Nationals best chance of winning.

Maybe that’s why you’re bothered by Harper’s comments.

You’re worried he’s right.

 

Let the Nationals players pick the 7th inning song

Here are two things that will always be true:

1. Everybody loves music.

2. Nobody will ever agree on music.

Everybody wants a great 7th inning song — something that’ll get the crowd fired up and back into the game, especially if the Nationals are losing. Here’s the problem: no one will ever agree on the song. Look around the stadium: every possible age and demographic is represented at Nationals Park. As a child of the 80′s, I loved ‘Take on Me’*, but some older and younger Nats patrons probably hated it. The Nationals could choose something by Miley Cyrus or Katie Perry for the 7th inning song and the kids would love it, but everyone over 40 would probably shake their head in disgust. Likewise, the Nationals could choose something by the Beatles to get the old people fired up, but everyone under 20 would wonder what the hell they’re listening to.

* I objected to ‘Take on the Me’ on the grounds it belonged to Mike Morse, not the Nationals.

The Nationals won’t make everyone happy, so here’s my advice. Stop trying. Let the players choose the 7th inning music.

The Nationals players would probably love it. They already pick their walk-up music, and they do a pretty damn good job. Don’t forget, that’s where ‘Take on Me’ came from in the first place. If the Nats can’t find a 7th inning song, let Bryce Harper do it. And Jayson Werth. And Jose Lobaton. Let them rotate, and then show on the Jumbotron which player picked the song as it’s playing.

This would be fun for the fans. It would let the Nationals PR people off the hook. And most importantly, the players would love to do it.

If the whole point is to get the players fired up late in the game, why not let them be a part of the process?

Michael Wacha was once held up as the anti-Strasburg. And now he’s hurt.

So, I was checking out the Major League Baseball headlines this morning, and one headline in particular jumped out to me.

“Kershaw overpowers Royals”

Big surprise.

“Kinsler set to return to Texas”

Eh, who cares?

“Wacha placed on the 15-day disabled list”

Oh, that’s too bad.

Wait, what? Wacha? Michael Wacha? The 22-year old pitching phenom in St. Louis?

Wacha was the crown jewel of the “legendary” Cardinals player development system. Wacha wasn’t only the Cardinals future, he was their present. In 15 starts this season, Wacha put up a 2.70 ERA and 1.12 WHIP (if you remember, at Nats Park this April, Wacha largely shut down the Nationals lineup over 7 innings). Wacha was supposed to anchor the Cardinals rotation through the summer and into the playoffs.

And now Wacha is injured, with the worst kind of injury–shoulder problems.  History has not been kind to young pitchers with shoulder injuries. Does anyone remember Mark Prior? Cardinals fans have good reason to be worried about their young ace.

While Wacha’s injury is by itself noteworthy, this news grabbed my attention for another reason — a more personal one. It wasn’t too long ago, October 2013 to be exact, that “experts” around the country held up Michael Wacha and the Cardinals as the shining example of roster management–in particular, the Cardinals decision to carefully ration Wacha’s innings over the season to ensure he was available for the postseason. Many of the same experts praising the Cardinals found it necessary to take gratuitous digs at Mike Rizzo and his management of Stephen Strasburg.

Consider this from the Cardinals’ hometown newspaper the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The Cardinals don’t want to name-drop – what other teams choose to do with their young, cherished arms is, after all, their business – but one pitcher is on the tip of the tongue when exploring how they preserved rookies Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and others this season.

That’s because when the Cardinals played Washington in the first round of the playoffs last October, they didn’t have to face Stephen Strasburg. The Cardinals didn’t want to give an opponent the same luxury.

As the first-place Cardinals enter the final sprint toward October they have a lead in the National League Central Division, 19 games remaining (16 against losing teams), and a full complement of available rookie pitchers.

A year after Washington engaged in a National debate by shutting down Strasburg weeks before the postseason started, the Cardinals adopted a different plan. They were going to limit the innings for Wacha, Miller and others, but do so throughout the season – so they wouldn’t be a spectator in September or, if possible, October.

Or this article from Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com:

John Mozeliak never mentioned Stephen Strasburg.

He didn’t need to.

I knew what he was talking about, and so do you. When he said that the Cardinals worked the 2013 program for Michael Wacha and their other young pitchers to make sure they would be ready for September and October, the Cardinals general manager was saying that the Cards didn’t want a Strasburg situation.

They weren’t going to let it happen. They weren’t going into the most important games with their best pitchers sidelined.

“I wanted [Wacha] to gain experience,” Mozeliak said Monday, after Wacha saved the Cardinals season and set up Game 5 against the Pirates. “I didn’t want a workload that would preclude him from being used at the major-league level in August, September and hopefully October.”

The Cardinals treated Michael Wacha in 2013 the way many critics of Mike Rizzo suggested the Nationals should have treated Stephen Strasburg in 2012. Stephen Strasburg, if you remember, maintained a regular rotation schedule until he reached the 160 inning threshold, at which time he was shut down for the remainder of the season. Yes, this required Strasburg to sit out the last month of the regular season and the playoffs, but this was the approach recommended by the Nationals’ doctors, and it was an approach that proved to be successful in the past.

The Cardinals, however, thought they were more clever than the Nationals and Mike Rizzo. For much of 2013, Wacha pitched in a 6-man rotation, limiting his overall innings. The Cardinals gave him not one, but two, extended breaks during the season. The Cardinals essentially decided to “save” Michael Wacha’s 2013 innings until they really counted–the playoffs.

Well. It doesn’t really work that way. Innings pitched by young pitchers are not poker chips to be spent at any time or place the team chooses. The Cardinals approached Wacha’s 2013 workload like a debit card. If we save 30 innings now, we can use those 30 innings later!

This is nonsense, and it ignores medical science as well as common sense. Young arms (and especially recovering arms, like in Strasburg’s case) benefit from routine and predictability. This is why the Nationals didn’t shut down Strasburg for a month in the middle of 2012 or simply have him “skip a few starts” as many arm-chair experts suggested.

In retrospect, Wacha’s workload in 2013 was pretty questionable. Last season was Wacha’s first professional season. Prior to 2013, Wacha was pitching college ball at Texas A&M with a different pitching schedule and season calendar.  You’d think the Cardinals would have used Wachs’s first season as a professional to establish a predictable pitching routine–one he could mimic over a long and productive career. Instead, they decided to jerk around his pitching schedule under the pretense of protecting his arm and maximizing his availability for the playoffs.

Now that Wacha is headed to the disabled list, it appears the celebration in October 2013 was a bit premature.

Stephen Strasburg, by the way, is having a great season and his team is in first place.