With Brad Penny’s outstanding performance Wednesday night for the San Francisco Giants, questions have yet again risen this season about the competition level in the National League.
Penny, through 24 starts with the Boston Red Sox compiled a 7-8 record with a 5.61 ERA. Batters had hit .299 on the former Dodgers ace, and at the end of his tenure he was struggling to pitch out of the sixth inning.
This of course shocked most of the sports-viewing world last night when Penny went 8 strong innings last night against the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The righty allowed five hits, no runs, and only one walk.
Could it be that an American League team’s trash really is a National League team’s treasure?
This of course is the second instance this season alone where a Red Sox starting pitcher was cut from Bean Town only to resurface in the National League as a game-changing contributor.
On August 6th future hall-of-famer John Smotlz got tattooed by the New York Yankees for eight earned in only 3.1 innings. The next day he was cut. Seventeen days after being released, Smoltz resurfaced in San Diego, this time with a Cardinals jersey on his back. He looked like a new man, or at least the same man that once dominated the National League for 20 years before his 2009 experiment with the Red Sox.
Smoltz struck out nine batters in five shutout innings for his new club, setting a St. Louis franchise record by recording seven consecutive strikeouts. In his next start against the Washington Nationals he appeared equally as nasty as the start before. The righty struck out six and allowed only four hits and one earned run through six innings.
This apparent phenomenon of mediocrity in the American League turned stardom in the National League isn’t limited to the mound either.
On July 24th the Cardinals made another move, attaining outfielder Matt Holliday from the Oakland Athletics. From 2006-2008 Holliday was perennially one of the top hitters in the National League. Playing for the Rockies in that time period, Holliday averaged a .329 batting average with 32 homers a year. The left-fielder was shipped to Oakland this offseason and through 93 games in the Bay Area he hit a disappointing .286/.378/.454 with 11 homers and 54 RBI in 93 games. Since being traded back to the National League he has hit .375/.437/.691 with nine homers and 36 RBI in only 36 games.
Could it be that the American League is just that much more difficult than the National League? And if in fact it were true the implications of this fact would be astounding.
Would Albert Pujols still be the best player in baseball if he were in the American League? What about Hanley Ramirez? Apart from steroids, would Barry Bonds home run records be even more tainted? Are the Nationals THAT much worse than we thought because they play in the inferior league?
I don’t believe any of the above are true, nor could I imagine that the American League is anywhere near as superior as some give it credit. Consider these before you jump to that conclusion yourself.
The three aforementioned former All-Star’s all played their entire careers in the National League before moving to the American League in 2009. The amount of time players, especially players at the top of the league, put into scouting and video preparation can’t be understated.
There is no question that after 20 years John Smoltz has a pretty good grasp on how to approach hitters in his prospective league. He has spent countless hours studying all the best, and even the worst hitters in the National League. Not only has he studied the hitters, Smoltz has gone tow to tow with the hitters, and learned something about how to face them each and every time they have taken the plate.
Clearly neither him, Penny, nor Holliday could pick up this experience immediately in a whole new league. Hitters usually take one full year to adapt to a new league, while pitchers can often take a year and a half to two.
In Colorado, Holliday was hitting in arguably the best hitters park ever. He was batting in a line up stocked with great talent, including one of the best hitters of the decade, Todd Helton.
In Oakland, Holliday moved to a pitchers park that not only made it hard to hit for power, but hard to hit at all as the cavernous foul territory turned many potential foul balls into outs. Holliday also was the only threat in a weak, last place line up. Moving to St. Louis, Holliday had the benefit of hitting in a neutral park, but more importantly he hit in front of the great Albert Pujols. It’s no coincidence that he has almost surpassed his Oakland numbers in only 36 games in his new situation.
Smoltz joined the Red Sox mid-season after recovering from surgery on his torn labrum in the offseason. Even for a veteran, it is hard to join a team in the middle of the season, especially when one is in a pennant race. While Smotlz’s stuff was still there, he was clearly not yet comfortable on the mound. He simply wasn’t put in a position to succeed. In St. Louis he has been put in a situation where he is pitching against players he has faced in the past, and now he is finally comfortable being on the mound again. Clearly it shows.
Penny had spent most of his successful career on the west coast pitching for the Dodgers. As Manny Ramirez will tell you, they’re very very different places. While both clubs compete for the division title every year, it’s clear Boston fans are far more in your face and far more involved. The pressure between pitching in the two cities is not even close. Boston demands success immediately, where Dodgers fans don’t even get to the ball park until the 4rth inning.
These answers are much more logical than the assumption that the American League is simply better than the National League. While so far this year National League team’s have lucked out finding gems in discarded American League talent, it has little to do with the difference in competition level.
Once again the Nationals bats could not find the ball in San Diego last night as the club dropped its sixth game in a row last night, 7-0.
The Nationals only combined for four hits Wednesday, all of which were singles. These pokes came form Willie Harris in the leadoff spot, Adam Dunn batting third and Ryan Zimmerman had two in the cleanup position.
John Lannan took the mound for the Nationals last night and again struggled. The lefty earned his 10th loss of the season in a campaign that saw him toss only five innings, allow five earned runs on six this and walk four. The appearance leaves the Nationals ace, Lannan, winless since August 5th when he topped the Marlins. While Lannan’s last start saw him earn no decision in eight excellent innings of work, his previous seven starts saw him struggle to get out of the fifth inning.
Since the Nyjer Morgan injury against the Cubs on August 27th the Nationals are 0-6. They are averaging only 1.5 runs per game, and only 6.3 hits per game. While this isn’t exact quantifiable evidence that Morgan directly impacts the clubs offensive ability, it certainly is a strong correlation.
If the Nationals don’t figure something out, it will be an ugly limp to the end of the season.
Breaking down the Nats futility, Chico Harlan wrote in the WaPo's Nationals Journal:
"In three games against the Padres, the Nats had a .172 team batting average with two extra base hits. Go back even further, and Washington has scored just nine runs during this six-game losing streak. The Washington lineup, on Wednesday, didn't manage any base hits between the first and eighth innings against Kevin Correia. And get this: In a four-inning stretch, from the second to the fifth, no Nationals player managed an at-bat that went longer than four pitches."
Joe Sheehan wrote in Prospectus Today about the development of Justin Maxwell, or lack there of:
"Justin Maxwell is a bit like Walker, although I think the hype around him was mostly me buying too much into the opinion of a guest on a radio show I co-hosted about two years ago. I’m not going to sell out the analyst, who is a very good one who’s been doing this since I was working in QuarkXpress every day. Suffice to say they liked Maxwell a whole lot. He lost his 2008 season to a wrist injury then had a strikeout-plagued 2009 one, and now the Nationals have Nyjer Morgan, so it’s not clear that Maxwell has any hope in DC, but Morgan’s injury probably gives him two weeks to impress the team. He batted leadoff and played center field last night, and will do so until Morgan returns or he shows he can’t do the job."
The Nationals lost another close game Tuesday night against the Padres 4-1, as the Nats bats seem to have completely disappeared.
The club combined for four hits yesterday while only scoring one run. Washington drew three walks, and struck out eight times.
Clayton Richard was the twirler for the Padres as he went 6.2 innings allowing only four hits and one earned run. While that is all good and well for Richard, it is a terrible sign for the Nationals who couldn’t get their bats going on a remarkably average starting pitcher.
Richard, who came over in the Peavy trade, has a 4.61 ERA this season. Most depressing for the Nationals, Richard traditionally has allowed many hits, boasting a career .284 opponent batting average throughout his career.
On the other side of the mound, J.D. Martin once again did all his club could possibly ask of him. The rookie pitched six strong innings, allowing five hits and only two earned runs. However Martin threw 105 pitches in only six innings, and just over half of those pitches were strikes. If Martin wants to find a permanent job in Washington he needs to become more efficient.
Two of the Nationals four hits were for extra bases, including a double by Ryan Zimmerman and a solo homer from Josh Bard.
Tim Powers of MLB.com reported that Jim Riggleman said:
"We're either hitting, or we're not, and right now, we're not hitting" You've got to find another way to win a ballgame. Part of it is that they played really well. They made plays all over the field again tonight. They robbed our guys of hits all night and stopped rallies."
“They were making good catches, It's part of baseball. It's no reason to get upset. You've just got to stay with what you're doing. Obviously, a bunch of us are hitting the ball well, just kind of at people. You can't panic. You can't change anything. You just keep working hard and going out there and playing hard every day."
Chico Harlan of the Nationals Journal wrote in his article, “Watch out J.D. Martin,” that former all star second basemen Brandon Phillips has added Martin to his hit list:
"He came up and in and I still think he did it on purpose, but it's all good," Phillips said. "We don't play them again [this year] but I'm gonna face him again. I mean I'm not trying to fight, I'm just trying to get him back for hitting me."
That name again?
"J.D. Martin," Phillips said. "You can look at my hat and his name is in there. I write names in my hat and remember who I need to get. ... Not fighting or nothing, but getting back at that dude. You give some hard look at 'em, let 'em know, let 'em see your name."
In Christina Kahrl's Transaction Analysis Blog on Baseball Prospectus, in reference to the Nationals pitching rotation, she said:
"Segue to scenes from the upcoming classic bound to be the first-ever joint production from ESPN and LOGO: Brokeback Rotation. It's the story of a man and his team daring to live together, resolutely apart from the judgments of a cruel, unfair world where certain relentless standards of what constitutes acceptable performance come into play. Losing ballgames? Who are we to judge, as long as you've got a shortage of alternatives and a willing workhorse to saddle up and ride to the bitter end? You're sure to shed a tear when Teddy Roosevelt says to Livan Hernandez, "I wish I knew how to quit you."
For those readers that don’t already know. I have recently been awarded an internship with the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) for the 2009/2010 season. The lack of updates in the last three days have been a result of my temporary move to Columbus.
Nats fall to San Diego
The Nationals brought Livan Hernandez back to the club to do one thing; eat innings. Seeing as eating is clearly one of Livan’s favorite things to do, the plan worked out perfectly for the Nats Monday night in their 3-1 loss to the Padres.
Hernandez pitched a complete game loss Monday, throwing only 90 pitches while allowing three earned runs on seven hits. The big righty struck out five while walking only one, and aside from a few sparing mistakes, Hernandez pitched an excellent game.
The Nationals bats could not wake up Monday however, not even against the apathetic pitching of the San Diego Padres.
The club combined for eight hits, with the only run coming from Livan himself. Hernandez reached base twice, one a hit and a walk and perhaps was Washington’s best offensive threat.
Rookie Pete Orr continued his hot streak going 2/4 with the games only RBI. He is now hitting .533 on his short season.
In other news:
Utility infielder Ronnie Belliard was traded to Los Angeles earlier this week in return for minor league right-handed pitcher Luis Garcia. Garcia is a 22-year-old Dominican who has been successful at every stop thus far, as he is finishing 2009 in high-A Great Lakes as a reliever. Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus said:
"Garcia's a worthwhile arm to have added to the stockpile, having pitched effectively for Great Lakes in Low-A in his full-season debut. The 22-year-old Dominican's been generating a lot of ground-ball outs (1.8 for every fly), which isn't easy with the suspect fields and fielding in the minors, while also striking out 55 in 73 IP against just 14 walks. Getting that plus something else for a few weeks of Ronnie Belliard's time seems entirely worthwhile."
Bill Ladson of MLB.com is reporting that Mike Rizzo has indicated that the Nationals may not make their September call-ups for another week. Rizzo also said to expect many arms to be used in September to ease the wear and tear on their young pitching staff, but to also be on the look out for Ian Desmond’s MLB debut.
Dave Nichols of the Nats News Network and Federal Baseball wrote a piece yesterday on his predictions for possible call ups for September:
"With September 1 literally just hours away, major league teams can expand their active roster to include anyone occupying a spot on their 40-man roster. Traditionally, teams have utilized the "September call-up" in one of several ways:
1) For contenders, it's a chance to give their regulars a night off here and there in preparation for the gruel of the playoffs
2) For middle of the pack teams, it's often a reward to long-time minor leaguers or AAAA-types toiling in obscurity
3) For bottom feeders, it's an opportunity for a chance to see that prospect that everyone is excited about, even for just a quick appearance "
FOR THE BIG NEWS
Bloguin, the sports blogging network that The Nats Blog is so lucky to be a part of, has just launched their own portal. Bloguin looks to be to the sports blog world what ESPN.com is to the mainstream sports news world. Check it out.
Going into the 2008 offseason the Lerner group promised the fans of the Washington Nationals that the club would land a big name free agent.
In their sights was one man in particular, the biggest fish in the free agency sea, first basemen Mark Teixeira. It seemed destine to happen, too. Teixeira was from the D.C/Maryland area and the Nationals had the most money to offer to him out of all his suitors. The Nats made their push for the slugger and they let everyone know about it.
Then on December 23rd , Teixeira, out of nowhere, signed an eight-year, $180 million deal with the New York Yankees.
Merry Christmas, Washington.
Desperate, the Nationals combed the now depleted free agent market to try and find some sort of bat to support their young star Ryan Zimmerman. More importantly the Nationals had to make some sort of signing to save the franchise from embarrassment in the media, and ridicule by their fan base.
February rolled around and the Nats had yet to make any type of splash in free agency. There was only one man available who had himself suffered a disappointing offseason, Adam Dunn. Dunn had the numbers, and had expected a major deal. The Nationals had the money, and had expected to sign a marquee name. Both were avoided in the market, for whatever reason.
The two struck a short-term deal, a compromise for both sides. The Nats got a premium talent at only $10 million a year and Adam Dunn got a place to showcase his talent for two years before hitting what he hopes will be a better market.
Now, six months later, time has shed light on the 2008/2009 offseason. The Washington Nationals can now look back and evaluate how what once seemed as ill fate may have turned to great fortune.
The Yankees are currently paying Teixeira $20 million in salary this season, plus a $5 million signing bonus. While that number will slowly increase per year, it is currently one of the highest salaries in professional sports. In return for $25 million in 2009 the Pin Stripes have received a first basemen who is hitting .284/.380/.547 with 32 homers, 101 RBI, and 70 BB to 90K.
That’s $781,000 per homer, $247,000 per RBI, and $27,000 per OPS point.
The Nationals on the other hand are currently paying Adam Dunn $8 million in 2009 with no flair aside from his salary. In return the Nats are receiving a first basemen who is hitting .282/.417/.578 with 35 homers, 91 RBI, and 100 BB/147 K.
That translates to $228,571 per homer, $87,000 per RBI, and $8,000 per OPS point.
It seems that with the season almost over the Nationals lucked into the far better deal as their slugger is having the same season as the Yankees’ one but for an exponentially better price. Even better for the Nats, Dunn is only locked into a two-year deal so they are not pigeon holed as their big man first basemen ages. Dunn also does not have a no trade clause, unlike Texeira, allowing the Nationals more flexibility.
For the short term this deal works for the Nationals because it gives them a player equal to Teixeira’s ability at the plate, and it does so for less salary. It also gives them a slugger to endure several losing seasons while still attempting to put a competitive team on the field with stars that will appease the fans. Dunn is the perfect rent-a-star that the Nationals need to take them to the 2011 offseason when their talent will be developed enough to start making effective free agent moves.
In the long run this will help the club by clearing up their post 2011 payroll. They will need as much money as they can to sign their young prospects to extensions as well as go after relevant free agents when they are in a position to compete. The Yankees will be stuck paying Teixeira $22.5 million in 2016, will he still be worth it?
Be thankful he rejected the Nats, they are in way better shape today as a result.no comments
John Lannan took the mound under the arch in St. Louis Friday night looking for redemption.
Following a start that was arguably the worst in his career, the lefty pitched purposefully with his parents looking on in the stands. Allowing only three hits and one run through the first seven innings, Lannan looked like he would cruise to his ninth win of the year.
With one out in the bottom of the eight however Lannan lost focus, even if just for a moment and fell behind to weak hitting Khalil Greene to a 3-0 count. Underestimating Greene’s bat Lannan threw a meat pitch across the plate for a taken strike one. Confident now that he could just place strikes in the zone against the career .246 hitter, Lannan hung a slider over the heart of the plate. The ball sailed over the left field fence as Greene tied the game with his sixth homer of the year.
Going into the top of the ninth Elijah Dukes smacked a one out double to right, which was feet from leaving the ballpark. However with the back of the order at the plate, both Bard and Gonzalez were retired in order and the Nats entered the bottom of the ninth still tied.
In the bottom of the inning Riggleman opted to put Jason Bergman in and not Nats closer Mike MacDougal to face Albert Pujols who led off the inning. On a 2-0 count Bergman hung a slider to the best hitter in the game, and the entire ballpark knew immediately at the point of contact that the game was over. Pujols had launched his 41st homer of the season, and it was a walk off bomb for the Red Birds.no comments