Ask Boswell

Mar 07, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online Monday, March 7 at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about baseball, the Redskins, the Wizards and more.

Looks like a fine day for chatting!

The NFL labor negotiations are heating up so that the owners can pull the rug out at the "last minute" on Friday and get the lockout they have planned for over the last four years. Judge Doty gave the owners a pretty decent scare when he told them he wouldn't let them get at their $4B in future TV money from '11 if there is no '11 season. But I doubt anything will stop the momentum __to force a union decertification and lockout__ that has been planned by the owners for so long. This is almost exactly like '94 in baseball when the owners wanted to paint a PR picture that they were "really trying" to get a settlement when they actually weren't at all. The players want to keep the current system which is making everybody rich and making the public happy.

BTW: The suggestion of an 18-game schedule for a sport which is already full of concussions, lifetime chronic injuries and a pattern of early deaths for NFL players, is downright obscene. You should hear what executive in other sports say about this "demand." They think it's a disgrace to pro sports.  "18 games????

*The Heat have lost four in a row. Kind of sad to hear D Wade say, "Outside (our locker room), the Miami Heat are just what everyone wanted __losing games. The world is a better place now because the Heat is losing...

"But we'll figure it out...It's painful. This hurts."

Does this sound like a team that's going to the NBA Finals, especially when Coach Spoelstra volunteers that a couple of his players were "crying"  after their loss Sunday. Can't imagine Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson saying that his players were crying after a tough loss in the regular season. It's okay if they cvry. Or cuss, throw the food. But it's not OK to tell the world __that's happy to jump on you__ that your fragile team gently weeps.

*The Nats and Orioles are both looking good in Florida. The way Ross Detwiler has pitched in his first two outtings, how are you going to keep him out of the rotation? Storen's mchanics __or something__ didn't look right when I was in Viera. They were constantly working on him or with him. So, his bad start is a concern.

*Have the Caps turned a whole chunk of their season around with just one crucial goal in the last minute when they pulled the goalie and actually salvaged a win from what looked like a certain loss? And they did it in the first game with their newly acquired players. Their current winning streak __after the trade deadline__ seems linked to that one goal. 

Hope that gets the pump primed. And I bet there will be a Redskins question.

 

    

Let's get this question out of the way. How can you write a column about a Baltimore team when we have a team of our own, blah, blah, blah? Everybody feel good. Now let's move on. BTW, thanks for all you do, including the "outside Washington" columns.

My family symbolizes the Nats/O's loyalty debate. I grew up taking the street car to Griffith Stadium, then rodee my bike toi RFK Stadium. But I also covered the Orioles for 29 years when D.C. didn't have a team. I think loyalties generally run back to your hpometown and your childhood teams.

However, my adult son learned baseball while running around the upper deck of Memorial Stadium in the late '80's. He's a perfect example of why the Post was correct to cover the Orioles all those non-baseball years in D.C. My son was actually old enough to vote before DC got a team back! What, he was supposed to NOT become a baseball fan if he wanted to be one? Now,  my sone is an Oriole lover, but likes the Nats. 

 

So, I'm never goiing to be a one-or-the-other person in this debate. But I certainly understand those who are. I'm delighted to have NL ball in DC and AL baseball just 40 miles away. And, right now, the Orioles are a good story __even if they played 1,000 miles away.    

 

The Wizards have won back-to-back games once this season and they've won only three road games fewer than Cleveland. If it weren't for Cleveland, Minnesota, and Sacramento.... I don't even know what to say or how to put this team into perspective.

Every once in a while I feel the need for a rant on a subject that isn't worth a whole column or which, in some cases, may feel too mean-spirited or premature for a column.
 
But watching the Wiz absolutely drives me nuts. First, they are as lazy a defensive team as I havee ever seen. My son, a Wiz fan, said, "What's wrong with them? They can put guys on the floor who all have good games __McGee, Blatche, Wall, Young..."
 
My answer was to watch every play of a game vs the Bulls with him and note the defensive intensive of the two teams. With the Bulls, I'd watch the Chi defense and say, "Picked up the man with the ball near half-court and made him stop his dribble...Force the dribbler to go in a direction the Bulls prefered....Denied the pass into the pivot...Blocked off on the defensive board...Fought through a screen.,.." And a hundred other things, including the things the Bulls did right on offense __movement away from the ball, setting screens, proper floor spacing, etc."
 
Then when the Wiz played defense I'd say, "Not one player on defense is moving his five. No man with the ball has been contested high THIS QUARTER..." Then once the analysis was established, my son got it: "We'd just say 'uncontested....uncontested....uncontested...." As the Bulls ran their offense with no Wiz player doing ANYTHING to prevent Chicago from running its plays anyway they wanted. Not one pass into the pivot denied. Nobody forced to change direction.
 
"I didn't know they were THAT awful," my son said. On defense, they are just stealing their paychecks. The irony that the game was semi-close only shows how much b etter they could be if they tried.
 
But that's only half the problem. The Wiz have two of the very worst shooters in the NBA and those guys are second and third on the team in shot attempts: John Wall and Andre Blatche.
 
There's an "advanced stat" called True Shooting Percentage which incorporates three-pooint, two-points and free-throw shots. Usually, big men, because they get lots of dunks and inside shots, and point guards do well. For example, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Steve Nash rank 8th, 9th and 11th in history in TS% at .610, .608 and .605.
 
Here are the TS% of the stars for the current division leaders.
*Miami: James .583, Wade .574, Bosh .558.
*Celtics: Allen .626, Pierce .620, Garnett .574 (Shaq .655).
*Spurs: Ginobili .576, Parker .568, Duncan .520 (not what he used to be.
*Bulls: Noah .571, Boozer .554, Rose .536.
*Thunder: Durant .587.
*Lakers: Odom .600, Bynum .599, Gusol .591, Bryant .554.
 
No player with 1,000 minutes this year has a TS% under .500 for any of these teams except the Lakers who have a couple of oldtimers barely under that level.
 
You get the picture. Offensive stars, guys who should be getting plenty of shots, are .550 to over .600 and almost nobody is allowed on the floor who isn't over .520. Here are the Wiz.
 
Wall .489
Blatche .488
 
The idea that they are "good offensive players" can't possibly be right. They can't shoot. You may think they can. But they can't. Wall will p;resumably improve. But he's also a league-leader in turnovers. I'd hate to be Ted Leonsis trying to rebuild this mess.

Mornin' Boz, Thanks for the write-up on the O's offseason. I was glad to see it, though I'm sure the more militant Nats fans will protest. Like it or not, the O's still have a significant loyal following in the DC area, and a little Post coverage is warranted, now and then. Do you think the two teams make any moves with an eye on the opposite Beltway? Does a high-profile signing (or talk thereof) by the O's spur the Nats into action (and vice versa)?

Yes, I think thney have reached the point where each is quite aware of the other. The O's are worried, after the last 18 monmths, that the huge buzz about Strasburg, Harper and Werth will put them in an even worse position by '12-'13-'14. The Nats were looking at Lee a little more than LaRoche, but it didn't make a big difference to them. Still, my take is that they'd have prefered Lee, but not at $10M if he gets 600 PAs. So, they got LaRoche for 2-yrs for $16M. The Nats get a LH bat, which is good. But LaRoche doesn't have three Gold Gloves. And his best seasons haven't approached Lee's best year.

But I think LaRoche could have  a bunch of 25-homer, 85-RBI years left in him.

Think the Nats were surprised a little that the O's got Gregg. The Birds were aware that three of their key relievers, including Mike Gonzalez and Uehara were coming off arm issues. So that extra body __an d a pretty good one__ was important to them. They do NOT want this season to be derailed by one or two injuries. Still, MacPhail volunteered to me yesterday that, "We're not a deep team." (Yet.) So, they'll fret. 

Boz, not to appear to be a lickspittle, but your baseball knowledge and experience writing about it is legendary. If given the opportunity to manage a MLB team for a season, would you do it? If your answer is "yes" how do you think you would do? If your answer is "no", why not? I know one thing, I wouldn't play fantasy baseball against you.

I think I answered something similar years ago in a chat. But I'll risk repeating it. Once, a new MLB owner in a different city contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in being considered as his GM. (You'll never guess who it was.) I was stunned. I told him that writing about baseball and actually running ayear, even with tons of help, required a completely different skill set and that "incompetent" wouldn't begin to describe my own evaluation of myself for that position. My God, the draft, the scouting system, contract negotiations and 20 other aspects of a GM's job!

What scared me was that he DIDN'T KNOW THIS.

He turned out to be a well-intentioned, but terrible owner.

Of all the managers and GM's I've covered enough to have an opinion, I'd say there was only one __out of more than 100__ who did NOT know at least twice as much about baseball as I do. And with the good ones, I wouldn't even want to guess what the multiple is.

I'm learning all the time. I actually think of my job __whatever the sport__ as "learn, then pass on what you just learned to the reader.""  

 

 

In the words of Mr. Van Gundy, last August:, the Miami Heat will break the Bulls' league record of 72 wins, with a shot at the Lakers' winning-streak mark of 33, "And only the Lakers have even a remote shot at beating them in a playoff series. They will never lose two games in a row this year.. They have put together a much better roster than anybody could ever have expected. There is now no good way to defend them. They are unguardable. They are indefensible. They are just too good and have added so much shooting and are so versatile that they will score at will." He added that there is one way the Heat can be stopped. "The other 29 teams better hope the lockout gets moved up a year.' I don't think I'll add my comments to what Mr. Van Gundy said. After all, he's the expert getting paid good money for his knowledge and insight.

Thanks, that's wonderful stuff.

I never thought I could feel even alittle bit sorry for the Heat after their self-aggandizing introduction of James. One of the worst moments in sports that I can remember. The marriage of so many things that are wrong, including some aspects of ESPN.

The "highlight film" view of sports is a terrible influence. For example, in my exam ple of watchjing the Woiz with my son, I kept mentioning (and probably boring him to death), that ALL the Wiz players atre good at the kind of plays that make ESPN highlights __dunks, shot blocks out of bounds, three-pointers, crazy acrobatic layups, steal-and-breakaway. But at NOTHING else. No wonder they have no clue why they lose. "But we are so talented." Yeah, at what? At highlight tricks, maybe. (Nice lob-dunk.) At basketball, no. And everybody is mystified that the best record in the NBA is...the Spurs.

The big blow to the Heat was losing Udonis Haslem, who was aveeraging 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, for the season. He gave them inside strength and somebody who would do all the "dirty deeds done dirt cheap."

At some point, in a acouple of years, maybe "we" can all take our societal curse off the Heat.

But not any time real soon, imo.

 

 

Apparently, you wrote a column from Peter Angelos' spring training today -- why? You of all people should have dropped coverage of his team the moment he voted "no" on DC baseball. You said Angelos was trying to kill the Nats in the crib by keeping them off cable TV for almost 2 seasons, but you never stopped covering them. Why have your rewarded this bad behavior with coverage?

Everything you say is true. (Or "pretty true.")

But I always seperate the team from the owner. Those who play and manage and do the GM job should not carry the burden of the owner. Besides, Angelos is in business, so keeping a ateam out of Washington was obvious for him. Of course, we hated it and fought it. But that's entirely seperate from the different issue of his mismanagement of the team for a dozen years. 

Besides, I've written a half-dozen columns on the Nats this spring and one on the Orioles (at a point when they deserve it). So, I'm comfortable with the ratio! But I never, never, never had any reaction except pure anger to the idea, all those years, of the Orioles being "a regional franchise." Don't know how many times Bud used the phrase.  

 

Hey Boz. Love your detailed analyses of the Nats. What has to go right for the Nats to finish over .500?

OK, I'm going to try, for the third time, to answer this question. We have "technical difficulty" posting it. So, I'm break the answer in half and see if our new chat system can cope with it. So, the next two answers will be about this issue of how spectacularly and wonderfully difficult it is to predict the performance of any baseball team __even within a band of 10 wins or loses. In short, the Nats (and Orioles) could be much better, or much worse) than we now assume and we might not even know it yet. Though, so far, I'd say that any '11 surprised for both teams are more likely to be to the up side.

The first team I ever covered on the baseball beat was the '76 Orioles who won 88 games. The next off-season, they lost Reggie Jackson (in his prime), Bobby Grich (a '76 All-Star) and Wayne Garland (20-7 in '76) to free agency. They signed nobody. "Poor team, small town." Mike Cuellar, Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair all retired. In mid-'76, Ken Holtzman (only 30) was traded away along with Doyle Alexander and Elrod Hendricks for prospects nobody'd heard of. So, of course, I predicted disaster for the '77 Orioles. Because that's what everybody else thought.

I bought the conventional wisdom, as you are doing now. I was too smart to listen to Earl Weaver, George Bamberger, Billy Hunter and Jim Frye about what they saw in a bunch of guys, almost all rookies, who were all 25 or younger and some others who were older but supposedly weren't much good: Eddie Murray, Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, Rich Dauer, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, and Andres Mora.

The '77 Orioles won 97 games. At least 20 more than I thought they would. By '79, they were playing in the seventh game of the Woirld Series.

 

Can the Os finish ahead of the Yankees this year?

Okay, a nice place to continue that previous answer.

Baseball has been teaching me hard lessons ever since that late-'70's mistake about accepting conventional wisdom __rather than what respected scouts and coaches tell me and what my own eyes see. Nobody thought the '86 Orioles would collapse. Fred Lynn, Ripken and Murray were in the middle of the order. Boddicker, Flanagan, McGregor and Storm Davis were in the rotation. But some were getting old fasts. There was no chemistry. Weaver was gone. They lost 89, then 95, then 107. 

Of course, nobody saw the '89 Orioles coming either. I still don't really understand how they won 33 more games __33__ than they did in '88. But it taught me NEVER to act like I really KNOW what will happen. They went 87-75 and almost made the playoffs. I promise you that the current Nats staff has more talent, without Strasburg, than the '89 Orioles had with a rotation of Bob Milacki, Jeff Ballard, Dave Schmidt, Dave Johnson, Jose Bautista and Jay Tibbs starting 141 of 162 games. The only guy who even had a decent career, Pete Harnisch, was 5-9. Don't sell baseball short. It was built to amaze us. When the Nats came here from Montreal, everybody said they would lose 95 games in '05 as they had in '04. I probably agreed. At the All-Star game, they had the best record in baseball.

This happens over and over __season after season. Fans and "experts" are wrong __by 10 to 20 wins__ every season on 5-to-10 teams. Three years ago I went back to see how accurate SI's pre-season predictions were. They were wrong by 10-or-more wins on a MAJORITY of the 30 years in baseball. You couldn't be that far wrong if you tried. That was the last year they ever predicted specific win totals for teams. Fans can't imagine the Rangers in the Series. They can't imagine a reigning world champ falling under .500. But it happens again and again.

As a writer, you're better off actually standing behind the bullpen or by the batting cage for a week, as I recently did, than listening to off-season punditry (including your own).  Sometimes what you see and what others, whom you respect, tell you isn't correct. But it is an informed opinion. Right now, Detwiler's stuff is special, like Bumgarner, who was drafted after him. But Detwiler is skinny and throws across his body. How good is his command, his stamina? Will he pan out? Zimmermann has a very similar repetoire as Dennis Martinez, though his changeup needs to be better. Will Detwiler and Zimmermann have careers like Storm Davis and Martinez? Don't know. Is their stuiff equally good. Probably.           

Every column I've written this spring has been in the context of the Nats as a losing team in '11, a club that will probably win 70-some games. Is that 70 or 79? We'll find out. Or will I be wrong? It could be 65 to 85 wins, too. The band of possible outcomes is probably even wider than that, especially in baseball where half of all games are decided by one or two runs and many others are still close at the seventh inning stretch.

I was sorely disappointed that GMU didn't seize the opportunity to get the automatic bid. I think they'll get in anyway (and be seeded higher than VCU) but do you think that this stumble at the last pre-tournament hurdle will change their mind set going in? It certainly makes this GMU grad nervous!

I was all set for a wonderful GMU run to the Sweet 16 when I'd be back from a second trip to Viera and hoped I'd get to cover their no-longer-Cinderella but still wonderful season. How long might their winning streak have been by then? (Over 20).

That's a bad loss. No silver lining that I see. Of course, they'll get in the Tournament. But it will hurt their seeding and their confidence. You can get that confidence back with one good first-round game.  But the tougher seeding will haunt them. Not many coaches are better plugged into their players than Jim Larranaga. So, I think he'll pull them back together. But first-round conference loses are a particularly bad sign. I'd love to see a study on how many 1st-round losers in any of the major conferences did in reaching the rounds of 16, 8 and Final Four.

Hey Bos, do you think the NFL owners have any idea that their incredible popularity is not guaranteed for eternity? Right now, they rule the sporting world. But of course baseball, boxing and horse racing all could once say that. I think I'm at the tipping point. I wont lie and say I will never watch another game if there's a lockout, but it will make me care less about the games that dont involve my team. A lcokout now, with all the other options out there, could start the NFL in a slow descent. But I dont think the owners have any idea that could ever happen.

I think, hope, that NFL owners are already stunned by how much people hate them __and already understands that this is THEIR lockout/work-stoppage, not the players. Sally Jenkins did a wonderful funny rip last week and Bill Simmons, Rick Reilly and others have painted a similar picture.  The only downside in that is NFL owners tend to be so arrogant that it only makes them more stiuff-necked when they are criticized. And the NFL Players are tempted to "tough it out" more if they think the public/press are mostly with them. Uuuugh. The baseball players thought that __correctly__ in '94. It toughed the union's resolve. But the owners, like the NFL owners I fear, didn't give a damn. They had their plan. They had already forced out a commissioner so that they could execute it more easily, just like the NFL now has it Total Suit of a commissioner as a mouthpiece.

I hate to encourage either side, not that they take a vote on what 179 columnists say!

I'll be delighted, but amazed, if this gets settled in the next few weeks. I'm almosty sure it will still be rolling toward Doomsday for America as Labor Day approaches.

I wondered what a fall without baseball would be like. You know, I can't even remember! So, '94 must not have been TOO bad on me. It hurt the game. It didn't hurt the part of me that is a fan. I'm sure I watched other sports. But I stayed angry about it a long time __lets see, that would be 16 years and still counting, I guess. 

The NFL is so big right now __but has so many major issues with concussion, long-term health of players, etc., that are just ben eath the surface__ that I doubt they underwstand that they are vulnerable at all. Oh, they are.  

 

Boz, In watching some of the Spring Training games (which seem to feature the Yankees), the announcers are talking about the "usual" Tommy John surgery, as apparently a number of their young starters (and they seem to have a bunch) have undergone the procedure. Nats fans see Strasburg, Z2n, etc. Meanwhile, Zimm & Espinosa (whose power may be down some this year) have undergone Hamate bone surgery, which seems to be common. Is there something wrong with this picture? By the way, I've watched, played, coached and umpired baseball since DiMaggio. I can't remember anything like this.

Now, the science has finally caught up with the injuries. In your day and mine (though mine is a long time after DiMag!) you just had a "dead arm." So long, buddy.

FWIW, Espinosa says his hand has been bothering him for two years and he already feels stronger after his Hamate bone surgery than he did before. You mena he hit those six bombs in September when he had been playing with a broken bone in his hand for two years!?

Yes, I'm in the tank for Espinosa.   

If Jim Riggleman doesn't work for the Nats, would there be any chance Davey Johnson come back to the dugout? Or is he happy with his consulting gig?

Over the wintyer, Davey had a heart procedure that got his heart beat back in sync. I could pretend I know the exact name of the procedure __had another friend who had it last year__ but I'd butcher it. But Davey says he feels better than he has in many years __more energy.

I doubt very much that he is crazy enough to put himself through another managing gig.

He sure enjoys sitting with Rizzo or Corrales in a golf cart analyzing everything. "I have him sit beside me for credibility," jokes Rizzo.  

Boz: How often do you pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming? Whenever I open the paper and read a column of yours I'm filled with sweet envy. And this is especially true at this time of year. You get paid to do things that hundreds of thousands of your readers would gladly pay to do themselves. How sweet is that?

Of course, you're right and I appreciate all the time. However, when I was in my 20's and 30's, I always wondered, "Will I still love it this much when I'm 50, etc. Is that the trap? You get sick of it?" Turns out that you enjoy it just as much and maybe appreciate it more. And it helps that you should come a little closer to knowing what you're talking about every year (though I'm sure plenty would disagree.)

When I came to the Post at 21, ffetching coffee, answering phones, the four writers who sat right in front of me were (columnist) Bob Addie, (NFL writer) Dave Brady, (golf writer) Maury Fitzgerald and (behind them) Shirley Povich. I watched them every day. They were all in their 60's then. They had so much fun __were so sarcastic, gave everybody grief, laughed all the time__ it was ridiculous and none seemed anywhere near their age. I remember Dave Brady, a sweet soul, giving promoter Don King hell about a fight he was pitching: "If you put that %$#$@^&&% fight on in my back yard, I'd close the blinds." Then they both started laughing.

I thought, "Maybe you can do this a long time."  

As always, thanks for the chats. There can't be any way that Morgan makes the opening day roster unless things change dramatically over the next 3 weeks right? I'd rather let Bernadina & Ankiel split time in CF and draft a guy like Jackie Bradley Jr. who would probably be pretty fast to the majors. Thoughts?

They want to give Morgan a chance. He's their preference. That's not the same as lifetime Supreme Court appointment.

There's a reason they brought in Ankiel. And Bernadina can play CF, too. Morgan will have an on-base percentage above .350, play a "plus" centerfield and steal 75% of his bases, or he will not play. Periuod. 

So, either way, Nats fans will end up happy. Morgan will play. Or he won't play. And you'll get to see what somebody else can do. And it will probably be somebody with some pop.

Boz, Maya and, especially, Detwiler have looked really good so far this spring. Can either of them dethrone Gorzelanny for the fifth spot in the rotation? Or are any of the "set in stone" four in danger of losing a spot to either? The competition for starters is more spirited than I would have hoped for so far in ST.

The Nats pitching rotation, set in stone!!!???

Excuse me, I had to get up off the floor.

All teams show copnfidence in their "probable" starting rotation. It's againsty the law to tell the truth: "We don't have a No. 1 starter. We don't have a No. 2 starter. If somebody would like to pitch really, really weel, we CAN find a place for you."

You need 7 or 8 starters for five spots over a w2hole year. Be glad the Nats may have them with Maya and Detweiler looking good. Everybody in baseball assumes Marquis is a logical mid-season trade if he is pitching well. Nothing against him. It just makes sense. So, it's not as crowded at it looks.

But Wang not being able to go out for his second inning with elbow tightness was not a good sign. I've said I never thought he'd win another MLB game. Then I saw him in Fla and hoped I was completely wrong. In this case, I hate it when I'm right.

That's it for this week. Thanks for all the excellent questions. Sorry we didn't get to the Redskins (Okay, not really sorry. Hey, it's March.)  But we WILL have more Caps next week. See you then.    

I was bummed to see an entire column on the Orioles (though after watching George Mason's loss in Richmond yesterday I was already bummed). I totally understand that some people in the area root for both the O's and Nats. In fact, I grew up an O's fan since we didn't have a team here (Al Bumbry appeared at my little league parade). But the O's are the like the girl who dated you purely because you spent money on her. She never loved you. Her family never liked you. Her dad, Peter, is a jerk. So it's hard to get excited about seeing her again. Maybe the perspective is different in D.C. and MD, but here in Northern Virginia, I never hear anyone talking about the O's. When I go to the nearby farmer's market in the spring, I see an encouraging number of people in Nats hats. Not saying you shouldn't write about the Orioles, but I hope I don't have to read about them too often this summer (or not read about them, as I did this morning). Thanks -- I'm a huge fan of your work.

This chatters description of "dating" the Orioles for decades but never even dreaming of marrying them was too good not to include. Thanks.

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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