Ask Boswell

Sep 06, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about Stephen Strasburg's return, the rest of the Nationals' team, the Redskins' upcoming opener, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

So they have 478 uniform combos now, which is your favorite?

My wife, who loves design/fashion and hates junky suff, just loved the Md uniforms last night. She said they reminded her of "the Indy 500" (which she loved in person) with the checkered look, as well as "jockey silks" (and she loves horses racing and used to do that horse jumping thing). She also said, "Jazzy." She added, "They are not 'over the top at all.' They are very 'sportiff' (French). If you are going to do it, do it."

But then one of the rooms in our houses is painted entirely chocolate brown, So's the furniture.)

I was glad to hear it because, after a lifetime of thinking that the Maryland state flag is one of the ugliest things I've ever seen, I really liked this Maryland uni in the first second I saw it __and that first instant impression is usually the one you come back to. I thought I was crazy to like it. But I've always like the edge uniforms in most football periods __old Rams, Chargers, Cowboys when they seemed brave.

My son, the recent Maryland grad, likes most of the uni combos, but not all, especially the matte black helmets which he thinks are off-the-charts and the best football hats ever.

At another level, Edsall wanted attention, a twitter explosion, and he got it. That alone is a success. And I've always disliked the crooked "U." Sure, all of college football is sleazy, but you don't have to be proud of it and try to raise it to an art form.

I guess Miami was the only "weakened Hurricane" that will hit Maryland this fall. We seem to get all the rest of them at close to full strength.

BTW, Edsall doesn't have much presence on TV (generous evaluation), but his instant grasp that the last interception should have been used to fall down (and thus run out the clock) showed what good QUICK game sense he has. That's what matters since all versions of college football coach-speak are an abomination.  

Bos, I asked Tracee this last week, but wanted your opinion as well-- Stras gets 4/60 today with no option for him to get the W, even if his pitch count is low? What's the rationale for giving him fewer innings/pitches than he got in his last few rehab starts?

Minimizing the stress of getting back to the majors is the justification for putting his pitch/innings count lower. Less pressure. I'd probably have gone 5/70. Give him a chance to win, at least in theory.

I guess they are trying to be ultra conservative. Some, who don't have to spend as much times studying Tommy John surgery as Nats fans with Z'mann and SS, still think he's coming back too soon. As most around here know, this is standard for a smooth recovery. Also, the # of innings you throw in one year is used as the baseline for how many more you throw the next year. These are prime seasons for a power pitcher. Z'mann got 17 starts last year. Looks like Stras will get 11.

 

Davey Johnson's W-L record in his Nats tenure hasn't been very good. Does he get a Mulligan for this partial year, building for next year, or at what point does consistent losing begin to dim his changes or desire to continue? Similarly, reading about Mike Rizzo's prospects for the Cubs job, I inferred that he is already getting credit for successfully rebuilding the Nats. Howzat work with the fact that we really haven't emerged anywhere yet? Is that really how it works? Are we already a plus resume item for the GM? Seems a little speculative to me.

I love it when fans jump on limited data and think that it discredits, even partially, a lifelong body of work. It's one of the few times it's easy to lo0ok smart just by saying: Davey Johnson is one of the better managers, a definitely one of the smartest, in the last 50 years in baseball. The sport changes very little, compared to the NFL which constantly morfs. So, yes, Johnson as manager is almost certainly a significant upgrade." Then you sit back and watch it work out that way __the large majority of the time. Though not always.

Even THIS season isn't over yet.

D.C. is a fairly crabby sports town at the moment. Or maybe that's the tone now everywhere. The certified "big- time big-city" voice now is to complain about everything and see who can complain first. You have to get 1,000 miles away for counterbalance. That's why Chicago and the Cubs think Rizzo is doing a good turnaround job __overall, he is.

If I take the Phillies in October and give you the rest of MLB, do you take that bet?

I'd take "the field," but just barely.

Phils hitting isn't that strong. Post-season games tend to be low-scoring and, as a result, bullpens mean more than they do in the regular season. The Phils aces still give them a big edge. But in October it seems like even merely "good" pitchers can hang with the great pitchers more often than they should and hand close games over to the pen.  

...it's rotten to the core at the top level, but still entertaining football. How do we justify watching such an entertaining lie? And isn't the real problem the NCAA, their rule book, and their antiquated definition of amateurism?

It's been the same my whole life. I watch college sports, especially college football, less than any major sport. Probably because college football combines the worst of shamatuerism with the potential for long-term physical damage from injury and adds the spoice of a culture of almost total banality, bordering on Total Stupid.

Otherwise, I love it. And, yes, I've been watching it and enjoying __guilty pleasure__ my whole life. But I tend to watch Maryland and Navy most.

When I read your question __"rotten to the core at the top level, but still entertaining"__ I thought you were going to ask a question about the stock market of the last dozen years. Then I got to "college football" and thought, "Oooohhhh...football...okay."

I'm no fantasy geek, but if I were I'd look hard at Tim Hightower. Seems like he's the perfect fit for the system plus the 'Skins will have to run plenty to be successful.

With either Grossman or Beck are QB, the running game is more important than ever. They are both play action guys who aren't tall and need to roll out opposite the direction of the stretch plays in the run game to see the field better. They can both throw on the move, though Beck is probably better at it to his left.

The Giants are an especially unfortunate Game One for a team that needs to establish the run to get its offense going. Don't be too quick to judge the Skins off the Giants. They haven't played them well in years. And it's the matchup of the lines that exposes the Skins neglect in that area.

I like Hightower a lot and think he and Torain can take the pressure off Grossman __but maybe not on 9/11. If they CAN run on the Giants and drive the ball __yes, even at home__ that's a big tip that they are really better. Of course, Shanahan's calling card has always been his ability to build a run game. Does it show up immediately, even aginst good defensive fronts? Does it come together later in '11? Or is that still a project for '12?

Until they can run the ball, their QB's aren't good enough __either of them. Not week after week. But if they CAN run the ball, either Grossman or Beck can probably manage the offense.

It's amazing that so much attention is paid to the Skins offense when it was their DEFENSE, the first year in the 3-4, which was so awful __next to last in the league__ last year. The offense, even with all the knocks McNabb took, was not the primary reason they were 6-10. It was that gawdawful defense. It looks much better to me. BUT who was testing it? Except Joe F in the Ravens game, it was mostly Nobodies. Eli is a good test __a solid quarterback, but not special (and I don't care if he won a Super Bowl). 

Bos--What's your take on Dave Johnson support for keeping his hitting coach? Seems to me like this is an area in need of improvement. John Burke,VA

My Opening Day column was abouit how much the Nats would strikeout this year and how they would need to hit a ton of homers __not just "a lot" but a whole lot__ to function adequately. The front office assembled __or failed to disaassemle__ a whole lineup full of players with TERRIBLE K-to-Walk ratios: Ankiel, Espinosa, Desmond, Morse (as wonderful as he's been).  Even Zimmerman and Werth (in the top 10 in the NL in walks) still strikeout twice __or more__ for every walk. That means limited men on base.

So, regarding Eckstein, what is he supposedly to do? Transform these guys into contact hitters? He was handed free swingers who can't get on base, then everybody complains that the Nats are a bunch of bad-ball chasers who can't get on base SO IT MUST BE ECKSTEIN'S FAULT.

Nice logic!

This brings me to a pet point __How few RBI chances the middle of the Nats order gets.The most extreme example is Werth.

Werth has batted with two-or-more men on base he has hit .323 and slugged .516 with a .941 OPS. I'd never have guessed it. In the maximum-damage RBI siutations, he's been stellar. Yet his RBI pace of 60 is pathetic. How? He seldom comes up with multiple men on base. About once in every eight at bats. Remarkable lack of big-chance opportunity. Yet I constantly hear that he's a rally killer. But he's batted 314 times with nobody on base and only 73 times all year with two or three men on base. For reference, in Philly the year he had 99 RBI, 52 of them came in situations with two-or-more men on base __more than half. This year, only 27 RBI in such situations despite his high numbers.

See what happens when you ask about Eckstein!

 

There's an old Girl Scout song that goes "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." I am as enthusiastic as the next fan to see the return of Strasburg, but what about the others who have done so much for the team--Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Livan Hernandez, et al. I felt last year that we ignored Zimm (the face of the franchise!)in our joy over Stras. Let's remember that one man does not a team make! That being said, welcome back, Stephen!

I'm guessing that the nice chatter who remembers the Girl Scout song probably doesn't love the new terp unis! But I could be wrong. Nice points anyway, thanks.

The Nats have had to have some very solid contributors to be on 76-86 pace in a year when they lost LaRoche, missed Z'man for two months and all the rest. I hope the rest of the players don't feel diminished by Strasburg. They shouldn't. A whole lot of people have had to play with Verlander, Wood, Prior, Gooden __I won't even mention real HOFers__ and it didn't stop them from playing well and feeling sufficently appreciated.

Usually, a real pitching ace takes pressure off the whole team and, in every sense, hel,ps everybody. "The Stopper." But Clip and Store have really nailed down the back of the bullpen. Livan, for all his limits, could/should have won 11-or-12 games __not 8__ in each of the last two years with average run support. His bad games are really bad. But the majority of his starts __a lot of high "quality starts" and high "better-than-quality" starts where his ERA in that game was 3.00 or less__ mean he should win plenty of games. But he hasn't.

Z'man is happy with the level of attention he gets. Does seem to need/want more.

Morse and/or the Nats PR people really messed up on Monday. Morse hit two homers. He's the cleanup hitter. He's become a star. In such situations, that player ALWAYS stayed to be interviewed. Why wouldn't he?

But, after the beat guys waited for 45 minutes (or longer) they were told, "Uhhhh, looksw like Morse left long ago before you folks even came into the locker room."

Morse, a vet, knows better. Nats PR was seamed and should have been. Made them look awful. Sure, easy to "write around it" in a four-homer win. But an example of all the areas where the Nats are still far from a crisp operation. If that had happened in NYC with a Yankee, the tabloids would have led the back page with "Morse Homers Twice, Ducks Out. What's Up? 'Morse Code' for Trouble Ahead!!??"

What are your expectations for Stephen Strasburg's first major league start since Tommy John surgery?

I'll go with 4-3-1-1-1-5. I thionk he'll be pretty sharp.

J Z''mann's first two starts last year when he came back were: 4-7-(5-5)-1-4 in a loss at home, then a spectacular 6-1-(0-0)-0-9 game in Florida.

When I say "erratic" coming back from TJ surgery, that's what I mean. Six or Jordan's seven last year when he came back all had that wonderful (3)-or-lousy (3) quality.

Thoughts on the Moneyball concept now that it's been close to a decade since the book came out? Plan to see the movie?

Looking forward to the film. Sort of wondering who's playing me in the movie since my Total Average came out in April '78 in the Post (I looked it up), more than a year ahead of any of the other "advanced stats," according to the timeline cited in Moneyball which has the first new stats arriving in mid-''79 which did essentially the same thing. No problem. Seriously. Others did 100 kinds of new stats and made it an industry within baseball that changed the game. I just did one. 

The Moneyball insights, and the market inefficiencies they illuminated, have long since been made part of the standard skill set of almost every team, including the Nats.  The have been erased by a kind of baseball arbitrage. That's why it was good to see the Nats go to "60-40 scouting when they stole all those scouts, including Clark, McKeon and others, after the '09 season. The pendulum swings. Everybody now crunches much the same numbers. But top scouts __much maligned in Moneyball__ are still better than mediocre or poor scouts. So that's where you can get an edge. We'll see how that plays out with the development of the first three Rizzo draft classes __especiually the last two years.

For those of you unable to get enough of Strasmus 2011, check out our quiz on the phenom here: http://wapo.st/r5FC2M

Your Sunday column seemed to say that fans shouldn't have any greater expectations for Jayson Werth despite the exorbitant salary he's making. But what about the strikeouts. He's in the top 5 in the NL in number of strikeouts (although he's no Adam Dunn) and seems to always take a called 3rd strike with runners in scoring position (is there a stat for that)? Why's that acceptable? It's frustrating to watch. Does he have stock in VELCRO because he can't seem to get the bat off of his shoulder?

I think we need to wait quite a while to get a full view of Werth. I'm certain that he isn't viewed correctly as a person and I suspect we haven't got him analyzed __over a multi-year timeframe__ yet either.
The other day, talking with Werth, I asked who'd taught him hitting since his grandfather was Dick Schofield (19 yrs MLB), his mom's brother was Dick Schofield, Jr., his real dad was a pro ballplayer, too and his stepfather Dennis Werth played four years in the majors. He said, "My stepfather. He built a batting cage for me. Every day, my mom would say, 'Jayson, have yoiu done your hitting today?' If I hadn't, I was grounded.'"
 
He must know half of all the Cal, Sr., stories. The goofball Geiko caveman look, a mistake in PR in my book, is because he wants to look old-school and tough like the Phils and he has a problem __when he's cleanshaven he looks like a darn Hollywood leading man. He hates that. Pretty Boy isn't a look many players want. Werth wants the dirty uniform. That's just my take on it, no input from him on that.
 
No doubt (in my mind) , as I've written, he was a classic contract choke before the All-Star game. Sometimes it just gets 'em. I saw it with Mike Bordick when he replaced Cal at SS and got (for him) a fat contract in '97. OPS .601 __almost the bottom of baseball. Then in '98-'99 he bounced back and even hit 20 homers in '00. From his early days in spring training as an Oriole farm hand, Werth still remembers the night Bordick took him to dinner.Bordick just got ripped from the day the Orioles got him __with me as the No. 1 offender. And that looked right for a whole year. Then it looked idiotic for a loooong time. Especially when Bordick got up to 20 homers and an All-Star team in '00.

Werth is TOO much baseball, not too little. He cares TOO much. Not too little. That Joe Cool thing of his __I think it's just a set of lifelong mannerisms that are part of him__  is comoflage. I see it in some form constantly. It's really scary to perform in front of 30,000 people. Athletes find ways to defend their true feelings when they fail. Believe it or not, they are EXACTLY like everybody else. I've seen guys who got contracts and didn't care enough __like the O's Glenn Davis. They don't come back. They take the money and disappear. This guy burns to be good. (He isn't great. He isn't $126M. But he's a real good tough winning ballplayer when his head is on straight.) Give him one year. Give him '12. Maybe he fails. Tough game. But he'll do anything. He's playing CF IN SEPTEMBER just to let them get a read on how they evaluate him for the position next year IF IT HELPS THEM. And he's better than Lastings Milledge, Ryan Church and a bunch of other clowns and as good as Marlon Byrd, who made the AS team in CF. No Ankiel. But like Aaron Roward __a bat who can hit and play a decent CF. It gives them options with Harper in RF and Morse in LF (shudder) or Morse at 1st and maybe even Rendon in RF in a couple of years.

 
This guy may stink in many people's books right now. But, to most fans at any rate, I'd say: He's not who you think he is.     

What a year Michael Morse has had! What's his contract status? Or put another way, when should we expect Rizzo and the Lerner's to unload him?

Morse is under team control through '13. He's not going anywhere. He's been producing at the same level for >750 plate appearances over two years. "For me, he's real __right now," said Johnson yesterday. There's a 'bopok' on everybody. But when you're batting cleanup, they REALLY get a book on 'em." And the book on Morse __pound him in, because he's so good at crushimng the pitch away__ just isn't good enough any more.

"Michael knows his approach now. He has tremendous power away. And he knows how to get to the pitch inside now...And he's learning to take more pitches that are just off the plate inside...But one of his (two) homers (on Labor Day) the whole ball was inside the plate __but he crushed it."

So, I doubt Davey is voting for Morse to go anywhere anytime soon.

Adam Dunn has struggled mightily this season in Chicago (a very hitter friendly park) despite very consistent production for most of the last decade. What do you think the reason is for Dunn falling off so dramatically? Age? Poor conditioning? Switching to the AL? Being a DH?

All of the above. And I suspect, whenver somebody goes this bad, that there an extra factor that we'll find out about someday. Again, with players who have a real gtrack record, don't sell them out after one bad year. If the deterioration extends well into a second year, then that's really bad news. My guess is that Dunn will be one of the great Fantasy Draft Steals of '12.

A rain delay tonight would mean that Stras debuts tomorrow or that he pitches a simulated game indoors and appears in 5 days? Re: Livo--what are the odds he passes Rizzo another salary note (I love the story of his negotiations) and, more importantly, will Rizzo accept?

On the rain tonight and Strasburg, let me say what I know.
The Nats control the start of the game. Then the umpires have it once it starts.
 
Tues tix are out of luck if it's rained out tonight and Stras pitches Weds nite.
 
Weds nite tix are for Weds, Thurs for Thurs, etc. (Tues tix are for the make-up date, whenever that is, or can be exchanged for another game.) 
 
Only possible "twist" that I can come up with is: What if it's rained out tonite, rescheduled as part of a day-nite doubleheader on Weds? Then if Stras pitched the 1 p.m. game on Weds, I think the Tues nite tix would be good for that game. It would be "the makeup." Not 100% sure on that, but I think that's how it would HAVE to work. Obviously, we'll know more later. Rely on THAT info, not my speculation here.
 
It's a mess. Even Rizzo was a little confused last nite. Because it's a hurricane, my guess (that's all) is that they cancel it pretty early __meaning before 5:45 and maybe even as early at 2-3-4.
 
But I hope they get it in and everybody who bought tix for Tues gets to see him. You never know. "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And....sometimes....it rains. Think about it." Nuke in Bull Durham, of course.

 

Come on Boz - you're really going to hype Clippard's win in the All Star game? One batter?

I thought it would nice __for the only time in his life__ that Clippard's All-Star win could be mentioned without saying it was a total fluke. Just once, okay? Never again, promise.

Two questions: (1) We were at the game Saturday, and Clippard looked off-kilter, as he has in a number of recent games. Heavy reliance on off-speed and breaking pitches, seeming hesitancy to full the trigger on his fastball. Is he OK? End-of-the-season fatigue, maybe? What's up with him? (2) This jumped out at me in your Werth column: "before the all-star break, the Nats were 46-46. Since then, with Werth playing 41 of 44 games (through Friday), they're 17-27 and seem adrift under Davey Johnson" I would be prepared for the Nats to seem discomfited with DJ after "succeeding" under the less-commanding Riggelman, but adrift? What's happening? What's the dynamic?

Talked with Clippard yesterday. It was his mechanics. He spotted it a couple of days ago. He was flying open. It's fixed. He looked very good (again) on Labor Day.

The "adrift" is, in part, a byproducct of all the Nats emphasis on hopw they are incorporating all these new players and trying to get answers for '12. That's nice. But enough. Starting tonite, with a huge roster, including lots of pieces thaty actually improve your ability to win __Sl;aten another LHer in the pen, Bernadina another LH off the bench, plenty of long relief arms__ there is absolutely no reason (with a manageable schedule) that the Nationals shouldn't ALSO be driving themselves to finish third ahead of the Marlins and Mets. They lost a nice chance against the Mets at home over the weekend.

With the expanded roster, "developing players" should, by and large, not hinder trying to have a strong finish.

The Nats want answers to a lot of questions. In the N.L. East, you want lots of LH pitching. Is it 3 RHers n ext year __Strasburg, Z'mann, plus another? Or is it 3 LHers, including Lannan and two of three out of Milone, Detwiuler and Gorzelanny. In theory, you'd prefer 3 LHers. Where does Marrero fit. He looks like a decent average hitter, but he was drafted for power. He's gotten better at 1st base but...wow...I just don't want to say it. Let the kid have his September. They want to see Desmond at leadoff now that Davey has gotten him to pull the inside pitch again with power. That is Davey. Lombardozzi, if he comes up, for Espinoza in some games isn't going to hurt.

"My plate is full," said Johnson yesterday. "I'm upset that we've been losing. But there are a lot of other issues __organizational issues, questions that need answers before we go to spring training next year__ that have more long-term importance for whoever the manager is next year.  Next year is the last thing I'm thinking about."

 

 

 

Boz, you sure sounded like you are drinking the Shanahan flavored koolaid with your recent column about him. Can we mark you down for a mea culpa column at the end of the year if they tank again this year?

The first thing you learn as a columnist is that you are going to be wrong __a lot. I try to have insights, not just opinions (which are the easiest thing in the world to generate.) If both my insight (ha) and my current opinion on Shanahan are losuy, then I'll change them.

In psychology (and marketing) one of the famous insights into people is how much they want to cling to any position which they take IN PUBLIC. IOt is called "Commitment and Consistency." At the racetrack, people who have just placed a bet immediately feel MORE confident that they are right than they did before they placed the money down just one minute before. They want to be consistent, stand behind their opinion. The examples of people deluding themselves to an insane degree __just to remain "consistent"__ is one of the most powerful and damaging human trait.

That's what we see in American politics now and for quite a few years as a powerful damaging country-dividing trend. New data is instantly twisted, spun, flipped 180-degrees or simply ignored for the sake of public consistency. It's killing us. Sir Joshua Reynolds noted: "There is no expedient to which a man will not resorgt to avoid the real labor of thinking."

So, I try to change my mind a lot __especially in public where it is hardest. Because, even then, you probably won't change it often enough. I should probably have a sign on my office wall that quotes Weaver saying, "Everything changes everything."

See you next week. Merry Strasmus, whenever it arives.

 

Boz, Assumimg Davey comes back, and knowing how much he likes to have long releivers in the pen, wouldn't it make sense to bring Livo back for that role? He would be perfect. And the price would be right.

Livo is the best $1M rotation insurance policy, long man and pitching mentor that the Nats could get. If the Marlins, who aren't dumb and are really good with stats, get a shot, I think they'll sign him as a fifth starter and a popular figure in Miami wher eh was MVP of both the NLCS and World Series. You really don't want to see him throwing that 63 mph curveball to Desmond, Z'man, Morse, Werth and Ramos because they aren't going to hit it very often. He migth expand Espinosa's plate to a yard wide. The Nats might see him 4-5 times a year for a couple of years. And they might not enjoy it. Outta here.

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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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