Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nationals Season Preview at Razzball

The guys over at Razzball asked me to participate in their team-by-team season preview, and they posted the results this morning. Here's the link, and in case you don't want to click over, here's what I wrote in response to their Q&As. But since I think the idea here is for me to help them generate traffic to their site, click the link and check it out. They have a series of previews on every team as well as other features that focus on fantasy baseball but are of interest to baseball fans in general.
2009 Nationals Fantasy Baseball Preview

We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2009 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2009 Nationals Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy of Fire Jim Bowden.

1) Which Bowden Fluffer are you the most excited about? And what do you expect from them in 2009?
Elijah Dukes. He has tremendous plate discipline for a player his age, very good on-base skills, and tremendous power. He gets a lot of negative press because of his track record, but from what we’ve seen in DC he’s been a good teammate and frankly pretty close to a model citizen. I’m more concerned about his ability to stay healthy than anything. In 2009, I think a .260 / .360 / .470 line is a totally reasonable projection, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him beat that by 20 points in each category. If he stays healthy and gets 500 ABs, I think we’ll see 30+ homers, 100+ RBI, and an all-star game appearance.

2) Ryan Zimmerman seemed poised for a 30/100 year until last year’s limp-wristed year. What’s your prediction for him in 2009?
Zimmerman started slow, which has become a typical occurrence for him, and then had a shoulder injury that cost him two months and sapped almost all of his power for the next month after that. He finally hit his first dinger after the injury on August 27, and from that game on he ripped a .325 / .381 / .553 line. He’s not that good, but that’s a hell of a month for anyone. So I’m ready to toss out his 2008 as an aberration. That said, he isn’t a 300 / 100 guy. He’s a .280 BA, 20-25 HR guy who shouldn’t be hitting higher than 6th for a good team. And he’s one of the best defensive 3Bs in baseball. And he’s only 25. That’s a very valuable package, but a lot of people expect more because Bowden (as is his wont) way overhyped him when he was drafted, with comps to Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson. He always does that to players, and it’s so unfair. But whatever. This year I think CHONE’s projection for 2009 is a fair projection: 19 HR, 78 RBI, .289 BA / .364 OBP / .488 SLG. I’d be surprised if he did a lot better or worse than that, assuming he’s healthy.

3) Any optimism for the Nats staff? Any chance Scott Olsen or Daniel Cabrera are inspired by Obama and give us change we can believe in?
In a word, no. I dislike Scott Olsen as a player about as much as anyone in the Natmosphere. His K rates and velocity have been in free-fall. He’s gone from 8.27 K/9 in 2006 to 6.78 in ‘07 to 5.04 in ‘08, and he’s lost 3 mph off his fastball over that time. He’s a slight flyball pitcher also, and his command is ok but nothing fantastic. It’s just not a very good package. Last year he only survived in the Marlins’ rotation because of an unsustainably low .266 BABIP. Plus, he’s probably the worst teammate and one of the bigger head-cases in the league.

I don’t dismiss Cabrera’s chances quite as much as Olsen’s, but I don’t see him as anything more than a marginal fifth starter, and I don’t put any stock in his vaunted “upside.” He just can’t hit the strike zone–he improved slightly on his 5.11 career BB/9 last year, but at the same time his K/9 fell to 4.75. He’s just very hittable. Guys know he can’t get strikes with the slider and sit on his mistakes. A lot of people are putting stock in the move from the AL East, but it’s not like the Mets, Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are weak little sisters.

The team’s rap is that Olsen and Cabrera will be as good as Odalis Perez and Tim Redding but with upside. That’s poppycock. I actually would feel better about the team starting Jason Bergmann than either of these two, but Bowden’s hated him from the start, so that’s not going to happen. Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all suprised to see Olsen shipped off to Syracuse and Cabrera moved to the bullpen by the end of July.

4) Who gets more saves for the Nats in 2009? Hanrahanananan or Saul Rivera or wildcard?
Hanrahan will be the closer on Opening Day, and he’ll have to totally fall apart to lose the job. That could happen though. Last year was the first time in his pro career that he had any idea at all where the ball was going.

Rivera is an underappreciated gem. I know, middle relievers are pretty fungible commodities, but Rivera’s a groundball machine who never gives up the long ball and a total workhorse. I wanted him to close last year after the Rauch deal. But the team doesn’t see him as a closer because he doesn’t strike people out.

The wild card in my mind would be Garrett Mock. He should be given a shot at the rotation, but if he doesn’t get that he could be a back-end reliever. He’s been posting some very nice K-rates across every level since 2007, and last year he K-ed 10.1 per 9 in 41 MLB innings.

This team’s bullpen depth is really shaky. Who pitches the 7th inning for this team? Wil Ledezma? Jesus Colome? Steve Shell? Mike Hinckley? Nationals fans have been spoiled for years with stellar bullpens that have hidden our putrid rotations. That’s all over now. This year could be ugly.

I’d like to see Manny experiment with some less traditional bullpen usage this year. He doesn’t have any bullpen aces, so why not just play matchups? I don’t like the old Tony La Russa rigid 1-inning closer model anyway. But I’m not sure Manny has the vote of confidence from management that he’d need to push something so non-traditional.

One thing to watch is Chad Cordero. If he bounces back this year while the Nationals bullpen immolates, then you can go back to last July when Bowden humiliated Chief by announcing on sports talk radio 6 months before he had to that he’d be non-tendered without any notice to the player. Cordero said at the time that he was livid and unlikely ever to resign with the Nationals. Since then he’s been more forgiving, and he’s still out there, but I would be stunned to see him back, and I think the Nationals will miss him.

5) Your site is called Fire Jim Bowden. While Bowden certainly hasn’t distinguished himself as a GM, it is a tough economy and we hate to see someone unemployed. If no longer GM, what would you think would be a more suitable job for him?
He desperately craves the media spotlight, and although I find his personality grating I think he was a natural on Cold Pizza.

But if you’re asking about jobs in baseball, I think he would be a valuable asset as a scout. He has a decent eye for hitters, and there’s no question that he has a knack for finding useful role players in the major league trash heap. But that’s not nearly enough to build a winner, and he has no capacity whatsoever to think long-term and stick to a plan. Any fantasy baseball amateur could match his performance drafting pitchers. He doesn’t care a lick about defense. He’s literally never drafted a middle infielder who’s gotten so much as a cup of coffee in the majors ever. So I wouldn’t want him in charge of scouting and development, but if he was just a roving advance scout with a focus on finding young toolsy bats and undervalued veterans working for a guy like Jack Zduriencik or Pat Gillick he could contribute.


James Bjork said...

That was an excellent post for that site. I especially like how you keep it real with respect to Zim, and how he would be batting no higher than 6th on a contending team.

I also liked how you could at least envision a postive role for Bowden lower down in an organization as a scout-type person to ferret out undervalued hitters.

That reminds me, while I dislike Bowden as a GM, I've never really cared for the title of this blog. Just too hater-y. Hopefully, you already have another blog (i.e. site title) locked down and in the can for when Bowden is mercifully relieved of his position.

Steven said...

I've said before that if I had intended from the start to do a general Nationals blog or expected to do any blog at all for more than a week or two, I would have picked a different name. But the thing took on a life of its own and here I am.