Saturday, April 17, 2010

Beating Gallardo and Getting to .500

The Nationals picked up a series-opening win against Milwaukee last night, beating one of the very best pitchers in the National League and evening their record at 5-5. That, friends, is the latest they've been at .500 since the last game of 2005. Is that a pathetically low bar to celebrate? Of course. But baby steps, people, baby steps.

They won because John Lannan didn't let the soft bottom of the Brewers lineup hurt him, holding Carlos Gomez, Greg Zaun, Alcides Escobar, and Yovani Gallardo to a combined 0-for-12.

Plus, the bullpen went two full innings without a walk. Sean Burnett hit the strike zone with 5 of 7 pitches, a much-needed change. The Nationals can't afford for him to be this year's Saul Rivera, and that's how he's looked so far.

And, of course, another come-from-behind win. Put another small feather on the scale in favor of Rizzo's "seasoned veteran" approach.

Other random thoughts and nit-picks "after the jump."

* * *

Even with Zimmerman out, Willie Harris shouldn't be used as a defensive replacement at third base.

* * *

Again, Stephen Strasburg is ready. One-and-a-half starts in AA isn't much, but he's not learning anything mowing down AA meat. I'd like to see him called up for his next start and Craig Stammen sent down. Depending on how things get reshuffled in the rotation, that would mean Strasburg debuts at home against the Rockies probably Wednesday or Thursday. Either way, it's time.

* * *

Riggleman! You're killing me with the sacrifice bunts!

Situation: Bottom of the eighth inning, Nationals trail 3-2, runners on first a second, no outs. Ian Desmond at the plate with Adam Kennedy, Wil Nieves, and pinch-hitting Ryan Zimmerman due up.

What does Riggleman do? He calls for the sac bunt, giving away a precious out and taking the bat away from Desmond, the hitter with by far the chance of getting the game-winning extra-base hit they needed.

Strictly playing the numbers, the play was pretty close to a wash--the successful sacrifice very marginally increased the Nationals' odds of winning from 55.4% to 55.9%. And in hindsight, Kennedy got a double and drove in both runs.

But consider that if Kennedy (.281 OBP) and Nieves (.250 OBP) make outs, then the threat ends with Zimmerman in the on-deck circle. Or imagine if the Brewers had come back for two in the ninth, and the Nationals' missed chance at a bigger inning had cost them the game. You just can't afford to give away outs from position players like that.

* * *

New rule: if Stan Kasten's going to keep marketing aggressively to Phillies fans, he should have to sit next to this guy.

* * *

Adam Dunn got himself tossed in what must be lesson #1,203,167 on why it never pays to fight with umps over balls and strikes. The umps always get the last word, and if they want to eject your best hitter to remind you who's boss, they will.

This is why Joe Girardi told his team's d-bag owner Jeffrey Loria* to shut his trap when Loria was heckling umps from a box seat. Now THAT was courageous, and it cost him is job. But I bet Girardi's young pitchers got a few more calls after that.

This isn't the NBA, where "working the refs" is considered an acceptable part of the game. Fans might like the NBA better, and if you do, good news for you, the playoffs are starting and you can watch the NBA.

MLB umps have a different standard. They don't take no lip, and they feel license to enforce baseball etiquette by going against the loud-mouths on close calls. Just ask Milton Bradley. Arguing balls and strikes like Dunn did last night doesn't show toughness or intensity. It shows stupidity and lack of poise, and sooner or later it'll cost the team wins.

*D-bag Jeffrey Loria is one of the few people in baseball who gets a permanent exception from my general "no name-calling" rule of thumb.


CoverageisLacking said...

"Strictly playing the numbers, the play was pretty close to a wash--the successful sacrifice very marginally increased the Nationals' odds of winning from 55.4% to 55.9%. And in hindsight, Kennedy got a double and drove in both runs." probability matters to you. Except when it doesn't? Come on.

Michael said...

They are not ABOVE .500 yet - did not know that it has been since 2005, but I knew it was years...
See my earlier tweet ... and follow me @Michaelnic2

Steven said...

@CiL--playing "gotcha" is boring. Just so you know. But taking your question at face value (in case you're acutally by chance interested in a substantive discussion rather than just trying to accuse me of flip-flopping), WE doesn't factor in the strength of the hitters due up. If Riggleman had sacrificed the pitcher in that situation, it would be the total right thing. If he had sacrificed Willy Taveras with Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham on deck, no complaints.

Sac-ing Desmond with Kennedy and Nieves due up and Zimmerman after that is a clear mistake. Even if it luckily worked out, it would not over time, and I hope Riggles stops sacrificing position players so much.

CoverageisLacking said...

I am not playing gotcha, which I agree would be boring. I do, however, think you are being intentionally myopic on a variety of issues in order to bang your agenda drum. And I'm pointing that out.

Also, to be clear, you used 2010 OBPs for your figures. Which is ridiculous 10 games into the season, as I think you know. Kennedy's career OBP is .330, and it was .348 with significant playing time last season. Desmond is a rookie. Enough said.

BowdenBall said...

Steven, not that I disagree with you, but in considering the wisdom of the sacrifice, it's not fair to account for Kennedy's and Nieves' OBPs and not factor in their slugging. The usual win probability equation assumes the post-sacrifice batters have a semi-decent chance of driving in the runner on first. Fair to say that Kennedy and Nieves are below-average extra base hit threats. An important element to consider in moving them over the 2nd and 3rd instead of 1st and second.

Anonymous said...

I didn't like the bunt because Hawkins showed that he was struggling at the time, but it wasn't that bad because Desmond was a right handed hitter. Kennedy is a Left handed hitter. But, if Kennedy strikes out, you are relying on Wil Nieves to win the game for you.

Anonymous said...

I don't usually like the sacrifice, but with one inning to go in a one-run game, this is the rare situation where it pretty clearly seemed to me the right call. In addition to some of the points already noted: (1) Kennedy had the platoon advantage and Desmond wouldn't have; (2) if Kennedy doesn't come thru, Zim can ph for Nieves.

Steven said...

No doubt the more late and close the game is, the more likely is is that the sac bunt makes sense.

Nervous Nats Fan said...

So I'm guessing you didn't like ID's bunt in the 2nd today? For the record, neither did I.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Amazing number of idiot opinions in one short, bulleted article:

- FYI: Sean Burnett is putting up EXACTLY the kind of performance his role asks of him.

- FYI: Desmond's bunting was EXACTLY what smart baseball calls for in that situation.

- FYI: Harris at 3rd will be a very very very rare occurrence (due to Zimm's steadfast history). Yet, you still feel a need to make negative comment. Is that the best angle you can come up with owhen reviewing current Nats performance?

- FYI: Your comments about Strasburg needing to be called up NOW are just plain sad. Have you not read the 1000's of "biz" articles on why he is in the minors until June?

- FYI: Using the Dunn ejection just to take 100 words to get around to your main target: Loria.
When you have an agenda, quit wasting words: just get to it. But why you've got something against an owner that is totally irrevelant to 2010 Nats fans, beats me.

Other than that short list of gaffes, keep up the good journalism.