Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 16, 2013

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Great column (as always) on the young guys and the All-Star Game ... do you find that the players and managers (young or veteran) care that much about the home field WS advantage or are they treating it like the fun exhibition it is, even though they do want to play well on such a stage?

The players on contending teams are very aware of it and know that, for example, 7 of last 9 Series have been won by team with home-field advantage. Bochy said he thought home field helped his Giants in both '10 and '12 Series, especially with fast start last Oct vs rusty Tigers who were taking a standing eight count before they knew the fight had started.

It's not just the 7th game that matters. It's Game 1 and 2 when you can get rolling or at least probably not go down 0-2. In baseball, homefield team wins 54 percent of the time. So it's a significant enough factor that you'd certainly want it. That "46 percent" doesn't sound so good. But it's not sufficiently determinative to warp the All-Star game and make it TOO important.

Yes, it's kind of goofy. So is baseball with the DH in one league and not in the other. But I like the current set up better than any alternativces anybody has found. Yes, "best record" would be perfect and proper. But nobody seems able to cope with the last-second logistics of a huge moveable feast like the Series. When they all get "transporters" like Star Trek, they can just "beam us" all to the right city. See, problem solved.

Until then, or some other solution, it's better to run the risk of having the All-Star game mean a little too much rather than having it mean nothing at all. And it's great, of course, that it looks like for the next few years both the Nats and O's will have, or at least think they have, a vested interest in the outcome.

After watching him Friday, nobody can be serious that he is a true ace. I'm sure he has the potential but that's all he is at this point. When will we see Davey move J. Zimm to the No. 1 slot and move Stras to the No. 3 where there will be less pressure?

Strasburg never got back all of his '10 velocity after his elbow surgery. They say he's not "trying" to throw as hard and wants to pitch to contact more, etc. I assume that's bunk -- just talk so people won't bug him about not throwing 100. (That's okay.)

Before the elbow he touched 100, maybe 101 a few times, WITH command. You throw as hard as you can as long as you maintain command. Now, his fastest pitch this year is 99 a couple of times with lots of 98s but mostly 95-96-97 and sinkers that are sometimes slightly slower. That's plenty to be great. But if he could be the old Strasburg I assume he would be. He didn't lose much, but some -- maybe a foot or foot-and-a-half off his fastball.

Here's what IMPORTANT: Where did his amazing command, repeatable mechanics and poise go? If he had THEM, we wouldn't give a damn about radar guns. He still has control -- low walks. But when he came up he had true fastball command -- first pitch low-away, not on the black, but in the proper quadrant and a pitch you'd only get a single on at best. Then he went to his wipe out secondary pitches. He always fell off the mound to his left at times. Now it's bordering on a bad habit.

He's an excellent pitcher right now. But he could be a whole level better and that should be his goal. Only gotten to the 8th inning once or twice. He's not close to the "finished product" yet. The more he realizes it, and I think he does, the more likely his is to get there. Richard Justice asked me yesterday how Strasburg was doing. I said, "If he never gets any better, but stays healthy, he'll be a slightly better Andy Benes." "God, no," said Justice. I was kind of joking to make a point. I assume he'll be better than that, though Benes (a 1/1 pick) won >150 games. But Stras loses focus too easily. Just got a whole level of maturity, polish still to achieve. He's made ground in not being as rattled by errors. That's progress. But it's not encouraging, after a bad start, when he says, "It is what it is." What does that mean? After a 2-IP KO, I'd prefer, "It damn well better not continue to be what it was today."

BTW, Harper is still in the same boat -- great talent, but a .267 career hitter. Just hope he doesn't believe all his commercials. I don't think he does, but emotionally satisfying, but essentially meaningly moments like his Home Run Derby show can mislead anybody. If his whole career is at his level so far, he'll be about as good a hitter as Zimmerman or, as I tweeted last night, Reggie Jackson. Reggie hit .262/.356/.490 for a .846 OPS. Harper (career) is .268/.349/.487 = .838. Almost identical. BUT adjusted for era and ballpark, Reggie's OPS+ was much better -- 139 to Harper's 126.

Harper should, and I think will, be better than he is now. His April '13 is the upside. But the injuries, overanxiousness, since then is the downside.

If Davey says, "If/when they play up to their potential" once more time, I think I'll scream. Much of the Nats team needs to take an honest look at where they ARE, not at what their potential is.

So far in his career, Harper can't hit LHers very well (sub-.700 OPS) and has poor RBI ratios for a middle of the order hitter. That's one reason both and he and Davey are comfortable with him batting leadoff. It maximizes the skills he does have rather than the ones that are glimmers. But when Harper gets on hot streaks with 1.100 or 1.200 OPS like his last 40 games last year and his first 30 this year, he has to hit third.   

I am sick to death of reading about Tiger Woods the soap opera. I would much rather know about Tiger Woods the player, and why he is so much less a player than he was in his glorious prime. What, exactly, is he not doing now that he once did so well? Or is it just a matter of the other players eventually catching up to him? And can he ever hope to regain that dominance, or is it likely gone for good?

Good points. The soap opera is so generic. The golfer is unique -- or was.

As I wrote long ago, "What happens after Tiger learns how to lose?" It happens to everybody, including Nicklaus who had an enormous number of second and third place finishes around age 30-35. He got over it in the sense that he kept winning, accepted it as part of the game. But the FIRST major win after a 5-year draught is going to be a big psychological huddle for Tiger. He is, in some sense, a new reconfigured person (in his own view of himself) and a new golfder (in terms of swing theory). So, he's like a late-20's No. 1 player in the world who has six wins the last two seasons but BADLY wants that first major. Or in Tiger's case, the first majoy of Phase II.

I have a friend who's a good golfer and very smart. She said a couple of years ago, "TIger will never win another major. He doesn't think he deserves it after everything he did."  She's not judging his behavior. She thinks Tiger judges it because it so completely contradicts the life and career myth that he and his family spent 32 years building.

I know you can "change your life" in the middle of your life and come out better for it. I think some people do it more than once. And I think/hope that Woods can.

I don't have a question, but I wanted to thank you for last week O's column. As someone who grew up reading your columns about the Orioles, I love hearing your take on the team. Hopefully you can write about both the O's and Nats in this year's postseason.

Thanks. That would be fun.

The Washington Post, correctly and obviously, focuses on the Washington Nationals/Wiz/Skins/Caps, not the Baltimore Oriolees/Ravens, etc.  But when they are good or entertaining, of course you pay attention to them.

Besides, I started taking my son to the upper deck of Memorial Stadium before Camden Yards was built. He's still a Birds fan No. 1, though he thought they'd never get out from under Peter's influence. So, to have a conversation about baseball with him, I gotta keep up with the O's, which is certainly a pleasure once again the last two years. They have a LONG way to go because the top of their rotation is so mundane. They are further from a possible World Series or Series win because of that than the Nats whose 1-2-3 straters give them a higher October ceiling. But the Birds are showing the Nats how to get the most out of what they've got. And Buck is certainly doing a better job of managing his team's (significant) problems in Baltimore with the O's No. 29 in ERA than Davey is of coping with being No. 29 in runs-per-game.  Maybe the latest Davey lineup will click.

It's almost like he waited and waited to give Span, a gift from Rizzo that he never requested, a full chance to work. NOW, he's doing what he believed in last year. Start throwing talent and power at the other team from the first pitch of the first inning. PRESSURE, aggression, baseball as mental warfare. Harper, Rendon, Z'man, LaRoche, Werth, Desmond, Span/Hairston, Ramos/Suzuki might just start to do that.  

What to you think the PGA would find if they instituted an MLB style doping program?

A whole lot of really boring guys.

Mr Boswell Let me try again. Why does MASN have a "Pitch Track" to show the "accuracy" of balls and strikes, but Fox doesn't? Is there some deal between FOX and MLB? FOX has been the innovator in HiDef broadcasting of many sports, but they can't figure out this? Makes one wonder. Sure would have helped on the Harper strike outs Saturday. I know it wouldn't have changed the calls, but at least he and we would know what happened.

Don't know. Don't have a very high opinion of the Fox baseball broadcasts generally and don't pay much attention to them. Hadn't even noticed they lacked Pitch Track. Almost hard to believe.

But, come on,  baseball broadcast without a "pitch track" capacity is almost as obsolete as telecasting the game in black and white.

There aren't many questions about Baltimore's offense. But with Wei-Yin Chen's return from the DL, do the Orioles have the pitching for a second-half surge to catch Boston for the AL East title?

There's plenty of question about the O's offense if you go hitter by hitter. A lot of good, but not VERY good hitters. And Camden Yards flatters them, just as it embarasses their pitchers. A lot of their offense this year centers on Davis having an insane 93 RBI and an ENTIRE lineup that has hardly missed a game.

Games started: FIVE O's with 94-to-96 starts and two others with 88 and 85.

Their pitching will get better. And it will need to. As I've said, the incredible gap between the O's and Nats in runs will shrink, maybe a LOT the rest of the season. But O's can stay right in the picture if Chen pitches better and Johnson stops melting down.

It seems that the NFC East has gone from being the most feared division in football to the least, certainly the least in the NFC. Every team in the division looked surprisingly vulnerable last year and they exited the playoffs with barely a whimper. Do you see any promise that one of the teams will get really good again within the next few years? Or is it just the time for divisions like the NFC West and the AFC Central to rise up?

After all the years of enduring the NFC Beast, I'll be perfectly glad if the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles are mediocre for a while. I hope Tony Romo stays healthy for years.

Thanks much for these chats, Tom. As to offense in baseball, it seems to me that OPS is pretty accurate in measuring total offensive value (although I thought your own Total Offense stat was even better). But in your mind, is WAR very accurate in measuring total value, including defense? Occasionally, I have seen WAR stats that just seemed counterintuitive on their face. Is there an accurate "total value" stat for non-pitchers?

WAR is a Holy Grail for stat nuts: One number that captures everything. It is also a snare and a delusion. Because it includes defense and defense is (still) so hard to measure.

I will note that last week in Philly Michael Young hit two almost identical balls to right center on consecutive nights. You could measure Harper's range in CF vs Span's in CF on two balls by the same hitter than landed in almost the same spot with similar trajectories. It's not precise, but it was interesting. Span was much better, had to have at least six feet more range, maybe more. Harper ran hard, but indecisively. Span just flew on a perfect route, but didn't get there.

Tom: Lots of media "concern" for Lincecum's remaining season after he threw 147 pitches in his no-no. It has verged on criticism of Bochey for allowing a pitcher to chase a no-hitter, which strikes me as a little nuts. Did this kind of discussion happen around pitchers in similar situations earlier in your career? I know you were strongly in favor of Strasburg's shut-down, but in the case of a healthy pitcher, how much of the Lincecum discussion reflects genuine concern? Thanks.

Lincecum's arm is mature. I used to worry when Mussina went past 140 pitches because he almost always had a bad start his next time out. But it didn't hurt his arm. I suspect the same will happen with Lincecum.

His larger concern is that his once-great fastball is now just okay and he only does well when he has his best command. And he's learning to "pitch backwards" -- fastball in off-speed counts and visa versa. It's a huge adjustment. Like almost everybody who hits that threshold, he'll never be great again. But he'll have great nights because he's so smart, competitive, has The Freak delivery and that "Big Time Timmy Jim" presence. Glad he got his no-no. Doubt it will hurt him.

Can we talk about Bryce's left leg leaving the ground on his swing? Without the leg plant, where does the power come from? And if it works, why doesn't everyone do it? -MH

Baseball has had "front-foot hitters" for centuries. Well, generations. Clemente hit homers in photos where his right (back) foot was off the ground and his top hand (right) was off the bat an instant after impact.

Lotta ways to hit a baseball. And a lot of arguments about how only one way ("my way") is right. Kind of like theology.

Should the Nats trade LaRoche and move Zimmerman to first now? They can move Rendon over to third and see what Danny can do at second for the rest of the season.

You got somebody out there that wants to give you real value for LaRoche?

Z'man's throwing is FINALLY improving. Some. Let that play out. It's a big positive for the Nats if Z'man is a fine all-around third baseman again in '14-'15. And he might be. There are signs. At last.

I finally left Davey silent yesterday. I said, "You've got a second baseman who's never played second base. Can you bring up Espinosa -- who can run and has a great arm -- and put him in CF, or LF with Harper in CF, even though he's never played there?"  Sometimes you have to ask something ridiculous/unexpected just to see if an odd bit of information falls out.

Davey follows Espinosa (and TMo) like they're his nephews or something -- every at bat, every AAA game, all the reports. Really wants them to get hot and get back to help his club. Says Espinosa's biggest problem is lack of selectivity early in the count ("thinks he can hit ANY pitch, just like Desmond used to") and "goes up the ladder" once he's behind. If Danny ever figures out that "less is more" and that home runs should, in his case, be accidents, he might be a good hitter for both average and pop -- and a heck of an all-around middle-infielder -- says Davey.

Bos, thoughts on Bryce batting leadoff in the second half? I know his power/speed combo is impressive, but who are we kidding? He's not the next Ricky Henderson, he's a middle of the order bat. Is the extra ~20-30 abs the rest of the season, along with the pressure to steal more bases worth the 5-10 leadoff homeruns that could have occured with men on base had Bryce been batting third?

Harper seems to love the idea, like Werth last year. For NOW. Bryce's timing is still off. But he's so scary that he's still drawing walks. Those walks and on-base percentage have more value -- for now -- at No. 1 than at No. 3. Once he gets hot again, which he always has, seems hard to stay at leadoff. BUT how the whole team/offense is doing with him at the top is what really matters. There's a lot to be said for a 1-0 lead after one inning and Harper and Rendon, with his RF stroke, could produce a lot of that.

BTW, Werth has returned to his career levels as a hitter the last two years combined. That's VERY good news for somebody who's signed through '17. Last two years combined: .299/.376/.451. He's not the Philadelphia Werth. But he's once again a good player. This year, 26 homers if he'd gotten 600 ABs. Not wonderful but good enough. Most of his power is probably back after BAD wrist injury.

And his fielding is better than Rendon's. Now what?

Good problem to have. Espinosa opened door so Rendon could show he's probably a big-league hitter already and a much better second baseman sooner than you'd expect. Those verdicts are still out, but results so far look good. That door doesn't close once it's opened. 

If Espinosa keeps hitting, which should be the No. 1-2-and-3 thing on his mind, things will work out for him because he is a known commodity otherwise. Lotta season left, lotta twists. And the last injury hasn't happened yet, either.

Glad to see Ramos getting playing time, but it seems like Suzuki is wasting time on the bench. Is he a viable option at first, if ALR continues to underwhelm?

Suzuki is a fine catcher, decent hitter when not over-used and worn down. No, he's not a first baseman. LaRoche is fine, just streaky. 

Since start of '08, Suzuki, who seems to eat pain and spit it out, has started more games at catcher (693) than anybody in MLB except Yadier Molina! With all Ramos injuries, Suzuki has SAVED the Nats in parts of two seasons, not by being wonderful but by being a polished pro at a vital position at a time when that is exactly what was needed. 

Is Bryce still vulnerable to make up and character criticisms? How did the great family story last night balance with his "colorful" expletives live when he missed a few?

Harper's character is just fine and excellent in many respects, as far as I can tell. He wants to beat you and doesn't hide it. At 20, that will rub some people the wrong way. Too bad.

I think Harper may have genuine humility in the way he deals with people, fans, teammates. He doesn't think he's better than other PEOPLE. But he sure as heck knows he is a better athlete. He is not a MODEST athlete. Look at his glowing shoes -- with the NYC skyline on them -- and his great hair. (Yes, I like it.) So, he scores pretty high (for a 20-year-old star) in the right kind of humility. And I'm not too concerned about modesty in an alpha athlete. As long as his teammates don't mind. And, so far, they don't. They like his 'tude. They need some and miss it when he's out.

Isn't his managerial track record that he does well for a season or two and then things head south? The same has been true for Showalter, but he seems to have made some adjustments in Balt.


Davey's record is that he's a great manager. In his FIFTH year with the Mets, he won 100 games. His win percentages in Cincy were .449, .579, .590 -- going up. In Baltimore, .543 then .605. In LA, .475 then .531. In DC, .482 then .605 and this year isn't over yet.

Davey leaves because, in the past, he's always pisses off somebody who can fire him or get him fired. He's either A) insubordinate or B) has a brain and a backbone. I'd say he's always "B" or sometimes "both."

Any thoughts on Kovalchuk defecting?

Darn, we need all the chess grand masters we can keep.

(Just kidding. Amazed anybody would give up that much money to go home. Also makes you wonder if the violence of the NHL game, the concussions, make a great player wonder if he wouldn't be wiser to play a more "beautiful and artistic" open-ice version of the sport.)

Lots of good position players. Assuming that Machado is untouchable, can they get a top flight starter for Hardy, Jones, Weiters, or Davis. If not, do they have enough prospects to make it happen?

A team wins the World Series once every generation (once every 30 years). Enjoy the otrher seasons, too. The Series win year is a surprise half the time anyway. Don't make crazy trades or crazy decisions on the flawed assumption that "this is our big chance."

If you can make deadline moves that don't blow up your foundation or future, do it. Trade from strength -- an over-loaded position. But, no, don't even consider trading any of those players. Only two O's starters are even 30 -- Hardy 30, Markakis 31.

Do you not see a downside to the exaggerated attention given to Bryce Harper, to date?

Yes, there's always danger. There's a bit of a message in batting him ninth. The way I hear it, some of the two-time champion Giants don't like the Nats, think they are too cocky for a team that hasn't won a post-season series yet;  so Bochy's decision to bat him at "second leadoff" -- ninth -- may reflect a slight Giant irritability toward the Nats/Harper. Or not.

While I agree this year's game is interesting, I'm a diunosaur who misses what to me were the Good Old Days when superstars played more. No way Ted Williams would hit the game winning HR in the 12th inning today. I'm always happy for the 34th player who gets the GWRBI but for me it's not the same.

Good point. Glad that old footage exists with young frisky Teddy Ballgame DANCING around the bases after his walk-off ninth-inning homer in '41.

I was at the game where he was ejected. He wasn't arguing the call per se, but rather thought he had foul tipped the called strike three. The home plate umpire was in his fourth MLB game and his first behind the plate. The ejection so riled the Orioles that they scored five runs the next inning and came from behind to win the game.

Thanks. And, even given all of that, Machado still said "sorry" to everybody except the ushers.

Is there any "message" to be taken from Rizzo acquiring Hairston? Either to Davey or to the other outfielders or all of the above? Or is it just putting another veteran head (and another from a baseball family) in the clubhouse?

Puts quality vet in clubhouse who hits LHers hard his whole career and has good to great numbers vs. Hamels, Lee, Maholm and other NL East southpaws. No message. The Nats clubhouse got much too young when it had combinations of Solano, Marrero, Karns, Jordan, Rendon, etc.

To the poster who asked about Bryce's leg lift, here's a pretty interesting blog post in which his swing is compared with that of a cricket player. Supposedly there are a lot of similarities.

Thanks. I'll read it later.

When will we finally get an answer on the Nats' television rights contract? This has gone on for so long with no resolution. Hasn't it started to affect their ability to be competitive in the player market? Angelos can't be allowed to pay them less than market value, even though he has that ludicrous agreement with MLB, can he?

"While we're YOUNG!"

The Lerners are billionaires and will get paid. It hasn't hampered the club much, if at all. It's more of a theoretical injustice than a present problem. It's mostly an internal baseball dispute. When there is news, we'll try to get it. We've gotten what there's been so far. But that hasn't been much. I wonder if Bud isn't so knee-deep in this that he wants to sluff it to the next commissioner. It's his mess. He should resolve it before he leaves. 

I wonder if you'd like to weigh in on Washington's chances of getting an all-star game. Adam Kilgore's article today doesn't make it sound like we are going to get one in the foreseeable future. At what point is there enough restaurant/bar critical mass in the area to move the needle? Is that what MLB is waiting for?

It's better to get the AS game a year or two after you want it rather than get it before DC can put its very best foot forward. It's a one-shot chance to define the ballpark, the quality of the whole experience/neighborhood and make the city look smart/appealing. And that requires a lot more SE development near the park. There has been really good progress on the waterfront. Very pretty. But you need infrastructure, restaurants, etc. I suspect '17 is too soon. '18 or '19 more realistic.

It won't come back for a LONG time. So do it right even if that means waiting. The current image within MLB of Nats Park and its neighborhood is frozen back in '08-'09. You have one chance to change and upgrade that -- by a lot. Do it.  

Do you believe Bud Selig when he says he has never sent an email? I won't even ask about Twitter

I'm surprised he has a landline phone. Isn't Western Union or Pony Express still working ok?

How does Terry Collins explain to fans why Matt Harvey was skipped for his Sunday start against the Pirates so he could start the All Star Game?

The Mets stink, going nowhere. Their fans would much rather see Harvey start the All-Star game. Teams, like the Nats, who may hope to get a WC spot from the Bucs may care. But it was a good move by Collins.

I think it's total disrespect to Harp to bat him ninth with Brandon Phillips hitting leadoff. Maybe it's a different story if it's Lou Brock instead.

Hmmmm, Harper is fortunate he made the team on fan voting. If he hadn't and managers just did the picking, I assume it would have been Desmond, who hasn't been hurt, who was the Nats everyday All-Star, plus Zimmermann.

Tiger or the field?

Always the field vs. anybody. And with British Open rough and coming off a bad elbow, more so than usual. I'll be very surprised, impressed, if Tiger wins this week.

See you next week. Thanks for all the great questions.

A small fact that seems to get lost in the discussion. Yes, he's walking away from $77M but he's already been paid $23M. That's enough for anyone to live on, along with a generation or two to follow.

Man, I bet nobody in the history of the sports world ever walked away from that high a percentage of his potential career earnings! Bet he's been promised a great parking space.

In This Chat
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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