Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 24, 2014

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

Saw the Nats-Astros split squad game last Sunday down in Florida. The Nats have to find a spot for this guy Souza, who had two towering home runs and a triple, showed good speed on the triple, and played flawless outfield. Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

Steven Souza looked like a beast in Fla. But he's never played a day above AA. Needs a year in AAA. He's still 24. He's played RF, 3rd, 1st and a little CF in his career. Too bad its not a lot of CF. He's too big for the position but fast nonetheless. Matt Skole (3rd/1st, LH hitter) and Zack Walters (SS) also looked like prospects with power potential who tore up ST with avgs >.330 and lots of extra base hits. At least one of them will pan out to be a big-time hitter/player. Which one? No idea yet.

Tom, did you watch any of the ACC title game?  As a Hoos fan, nothing better than watching Duke shuffling in McDonalds All Americas trying to find an answer against our stingy D.  Coach Bennett has constructed a real TEAM out a bunch of 3 and 4 star recruits...

I've been watching all the Virginia hoops I can the last couple of weeks, including Syracuse and Duke wins. But Coastal Carolina looked awfully good for the first 25 minutes or so. They kept me from getting to bed with an early wake-up the next a.m. 

I have always liked Tyler Moore, and I have always believed he will be a great major league player. I also thought he was a lock for one of the roster spots this year on the bench as a power hitting pinch hitter and a solid backup for an outfielder or LaRoche if he starts to struggle or gets hurt. But this spring I have seen this guy we signed in the offseason, Brock Peterson, who plays in the same places as moore, and put up similar numbers in AAA last year in the Cards organization. he is also been playing a lot this spring and been playing very well, and my question is: Will Peterson be considered to take what is now clearly T-Mo's spot?

I doubt it. But Moore is on the bubble to make the 25-man for Opening Day. The first base battle will be interesting next year. Moore, Zimmerman (if his throwing doesn't improve), Skole, Souza, other?

I'm a little slow so I need a tutorial with the whole cybermetric thing. I know what some of the terms are: I know what WAR is, what OPS is, and what WHIP is. On the other hand I don't know what constitutes a good WAR, OPS, or WHIP. . Could you go over that for me? (Maybe a column?) There are other terms I don't understand at all. (...and...I know you've gone over this before but......could you explain what constitutes a balk again?)

The A.L. league average OPS was .725 last year. And the avg pitcher's WHIP was 1.318.

I used the A.L. to get rid of most pitcher's ABs.

And OPS over .800 is a strong offensive player. The elite are over .900. For example, Bryce Harper went from .817 as a rookie to .854 last year. That's will he get over .900 -- a real major offensive star?

In history, there have been eight players with a career OPS over 1.000 and just 64 over .900. But 435 over .800. (That's still not very many since the 19th century). Harper's OPS last year would be 158th in history and ahead of HOFers like Jim Rice, Eddie Murray, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Puckett, Yaz, Redggie Jackson, Gwynn, Cepeda and a bunch of others. No, I didn't just put him in the HOF or anywhere close. But for a 21-yr-old he sure is rising fast. But he can/should make another jump -- in his own eyes and in the opinion of talent evaluators.

BTW, Trout is from another planet. 

WAR is for another day -- or year. Wins Above Replacement means additional wins above a player so medicore that you could get him (out of AAA or in a cheap trade) with little cost or effort. A team full of such players would, in theory, win about 45 games. (Some use 50 wins, I think.)

Anyway, the Red Sox total WAR from all its players in '13 was +39.7 with Pedroia (6.9), Victorino (6.2) and Ellsbury (5.8) the leaders. Boston's total pitching WAR was 16.2 with leaders Buchholz 4.3, Uehara 3.6, Lester 3.0.

A totally unbelievable (Pujols/Trout/Cabrera) WAR would be 8-9-10. Trout's had a 10.0.

(There are two methods for computing WAR and nobody can explain or completely justify either -- which is a good reason not to treat WAR with too much reverence. But then nobody can explain the balk rule either.)

(That would be "Sabermetric" after SABR -- Society for American Baseball Research.)

Lobaton had reputation as a poor thrower with the Rays (turned singles into triples according to one Rays fan) and so far spring training seems to confirm this weakness. Does this add to an existing problem that could really hurt the team?

Lobaton won't stop the running game particularly well -- 16-percent career thrown out stealing. But he caught more games than any other Rays catcher last year for a 94-win team and TB pitchers really liked throwing to him. They can now measure which catchers are good at "framing pitches" -- stealing strikes--  and he's one of the best. (Suzuki was one of the worst.) So, the upside is that he was a +1.4 WAR catcher for a playoff team who switch-hits, has some power and had a big playoff homer off Uehara. But you did identify his one weakness. If a BACKUP catcher only has one weakness, that means he's a strength.  

Tom, I just finished reading "Miracle Men" the story of the 1988 Dodgers. I found it very enjoyable, and I'm guessing you already read it, so you know your name was mentioned in the book in reference to an interview you did with Kirk Gibson that year. After reading the book, I'm amazed at what a force Gibson was and what unique player he was, and it struck me that he was 31 years old that year! I remember how you always had him rated high in your "total average" stat back in the 80's. My question for you is, having been around when Gibson first came up in the late 70's and having had a chance to see him in the early to mid 80's when he was relatively healthy, have you ever seen a player like him before or since? I can't think of any player who had a combination of world class speed, power, and intensity and competitiveness that was off the charts. With Gibson, it was all about competing and winning, everyone and everything else be damned. His statistics don't show a Hall of Famer, but he was one of those players that the statistics don't tell the story of what a force he was.

Haven't read Miracle Men. Thanks for mentioning it.

There is such a thing as leadership, especially in a sport with 162 games where it's so easy to be flat. A hyper-intense core player like Gibson helps counteract that. Gibson had presence. But don't fall into the Scout Falacy: he LOOKS great, so everything he does must be worth more than it actually is. Career .268 hitter, never quite 30 homers or 100 RBI.

I'd say that the worst-case outcome for Harper (assuming injuries don't change his career arc) is that he's like Gibson -- charismatic, energizing, 125 OPS+ (very good, not great) and a bit injury prone. The best case is...

Gibby was barely above league-average hitting lefthanders, btw.

Why bring up Harper? Matt Williams coached under Gibson w the D'Backs last year. They're similar in intensity and friends. I suspect Williams sees some Gibson in Harper. Though Gibson didn't love/need the spotlight like Harper.

Lots of back and forth on who the fifth starter is going to be. I need to finish off my almost-all-Nats fantasy team! Taylor Jordan?

It's a VERY tough call.

A few days ago in Nats clubhouse everybody was packing up big brown boxes to ship stuff ahead to D.C. Roark and Jordan, who get along well, were sitting side by side -- Roark signing baseball "chase" cards. Jordan said, "I don't HAVE a major league card yet. Just minor league ones." 

The clubhouse man mentions the boxes. "What if you don't know if you are going to D.C.?" said Jordan.

Roark didn't say anything. He's going to D.C. as fifth starter or last man in the bullpen.

My two cents: I think you just have to find out if you have a late-blooming very poised pitcher (not thrower) in Roark. I said last year that if he had the same command in '14 that he did in '13, then he would have similar results (no, not a 1.51 ERA) because the stuff he was throwing was ALL quality stuff in quality spots. And that plays anywhere. Well, the command is there.

Also, the fifth starter is going to have to pitch the home opener at Nats Park against the Braves. Roark faced them in his MLB debut (2-1-0-0-0-0). Then he faced them in long relief in an 8-7 Nats win (4-1-0-0-1-6). Then he STARTED against them in September and shut them out 4-0 (7-2-0-0-1-6). So, is that friggin' good enough for you? His line vs Braves 13-4-0-0-2-12). How can you NOT make him the fifth starter, especially if he may face the Braves twice in the first 12 days.

BUT Jordan also started against the Braves. 6-7-(2-0)-3-3. Also a 0.00 ERA.

Bet you didn't know that those two had pitched 19 innings w/out giving up a run to Atlanta.

All Jordan may lack is some polish because he's never even been to AAA. His stuff plays right now. But in his previous start in Viera I saw him get rattled and throw wild to second base when he had Altuve picked off and out by 10 feet. Just little things. He's 25. Roark is 27. You've got to find out about both of them, but I'd say Roark first.

The central argument for Jordan is that then you can put Roark in the pen where he was good last year. To me, that's backwards thinking. You reward performance. Roark has performed -- don't, in effect, punish him for being good at everything last year.

My chat producer Kelyn Soong just sent me an interesting link: Harper was voted "most overrated player" by MLB players in an ESPN poll.

Harper has gotten/done more commercials than his actual performance merits. That breeds resentment (though not among the Nats). But he is already a very good player. He's only "overrated" if you are measuring him against Mickey Mantle right now. I'm not nuts enough to do that. Some are. It's not Harper's problem if the hype machine lives in a world that is perpetually ahead of reality. He's doing fine. And if he gets one level better he won't be mentioned in future polls like that for long.

So, this is the Harper chat? Sorry. Enough of that for a while.

Bos, thanks for your chats, best way to get through even the worst Monday's. I have an out of the box and very subjective question but could make for interesting debate. Kevin Durant was recently quoted, off record albeit, that he would love to come play basketball in DC after his contract expires in 2015. If that were to happen and the Wiz become a consistent contender, considering his super stardom and well documented support for the Skins and all things DC sports, I strongly feel Durant would challenge RG3 for DC's favorite athlete. Any thoughts? Any other DC-bred professional athletes if they came back would dethrone RG3 as the clear DC favorite? Or anyone period haha? Thanks for taking the question.

If (pure hypothetical) Durant came to D.C., he would certainly have a chance to compete with Alex Ovechkin as Washington's BEST pro athlete. Durant has led NBA in scoring average four times and in total points the last five straight years (durable). Ovechkin is on his way to leading the NHL in goals for the fourth time. That would be a remarkable combo.

Someone be sure to call me when RGIII, Strasburg, Harper or Wall leads his league in a major category four or five times. (But it would be nice to have a great athlete with local roots like Durant who loves local teams.)

Is McPhee fired after the season if the Caps don't make the playoffs?


But he might finally be put on Double Secret Probation.

Caps are playing better out West. Ted loves any sign of "progress." And, man, does he hate change at the top. Also, Evgeny Kuznetsov is a big GMGM chip on the table. He put eggs in that basket and finally got the player to show up. So far, five assists in 98 minutes on the ice for the Loch Ness Monster. Pretty good. And the second and third assists in his three-assist game were really beautiful mature creative passes/plays.

Great column this morning, Tom. You are the best. I was down in Viera for a long weekend -- great escape from the D.C. winter and saw three great games. Also, Nats seem to be rounding into shape, EXCEPT Storen and Soriano. I saw each of them give up a moon shot to the Mets and Marlins, respectively. I hear that of all player, it is hardest to take away much from a reliever's spring training performance. On the other hand, Drew and Raphael had some questions departing last season. What do think? Thanks.

Thanks. If you want to worry about something, then worry about the bullpen ERAs in Florida (aside from Clippard). None of the other top guys look good statistically, including Detwiler. I saw Soriano once live last week. No hitter had a decent swing in his inning -- a good sign. I talked to him -- his English is better than he often lets on -- and he thought that his slider was in good shape this spring and that was his one real problem last year. The guy saved 43 games with only one effective pitch until the last few weeks when he got the tilt back on the slider.

"Only Mariano can use just one pitch," said Soriano, shaking his head. 

In spring training, I look at a pitcher's K-to-W ratio to see if 1) their stuff is good and 2) if their control is good. K and W isolate that. There are a lot of fluke hits, wind-blown homers in March. Jordan's ratio is 18-1, Z'mann 12-1 and Soriano 8-0. Limited data, yes.

Storen is 6-5 and I haven't seen him look good yet. He says his arm is fine and, yes, relievers are hard to judge in spring training. I looked back at last year's ST. Not too much connection with in-season results.

Soriano has had a remarkable and underappreciate career. His 2.82 career ERA ranks with or ahead of almost all the most famous relievers. And it's been 2.68 the last two years. He's more a finesse closer now than power, though he still has some of both. He's in a contract year and is in conspicuously good shape. The year will come when his fastball and cut fastball won't quite be good enough and he'll get lit up. Might be this year. But if I had to bet I'd doubt it.

It's amazing how tunes change. The Espinosa haters are already in semi-retreat.  Soriano had a decent year last year -- 43 saves, six blown saves. No, not a very good year. But he wasn't one of the main reasons for 86-76 rather than, say, 92-70 and a playoff spot. 

Oh Great and Powerful Boz, Do you think the fact that Medlen has been lost this year to another Tommy John surgery will end alternative, riskier approaches to the recovery period? Certainly the Barves approach -- having him pitch out of the bullpen then start later in the year while staying within the innings limit -- looks foolhardy now, compared to the Nats' approach on Stras and Zmann -- caution, caution, caution. God bless Rizzo the Wise.

The general theory is that pitching out of the bullpen is EASIER on the arm after TJ surgery. In fact, studies have shown that after a second TJ surgery it may be a good idea to switch a starter to the bullpen because the return-toreasonable-facsimile form is better that way.

Maybe, by some miracle, this link to a recent paper on recovery from a second TJ surgery will actually work. Here's hoping.

Where else are you gonna get this stuff. Thanks to a kindly reader and local orthopaedic surgeon who sent me the link recently.

Hey Boz, the team as a whole struggled to hit early last year. Enter Rick Schu... almost an immediate turnaround. If Schu's magic has worked on Danny Espinosa, does he beat out Rendon for the second base job since he's one of the few "plus plus infielders" in the game?

No, I don't think so. Rendon is too big a part of the future and he's hitting .344 in Florida. But you might see McLouth and Espinosa combine for 600-to-700 at bats. That kind of bench production might keep a lot of starts fresh. Espinosa may -- just guessing -- give Rendon and Desmond 30 games of rest (combined) at second and shortstop and also get (WAG) 25 starts at THIRD base when LaRoche rests/sits vs LHed pitching and Zimmerman plays first. And he could get another 5-to-10 starts when Zimmerman rest and Rendon plays third.

Got that? Well, it could be 60 starts, plus PHing, filling in when any infielder is hurt and maybe (if he's hitting) a couple of DH starts in AL parks. That's best case. Worst case? Don't ask. That two-homer game by Espinosa over the weekend may be the "shot" that lets us know that the worst case isn't going to be the outcome. Hope so. Lotta talent.

Despite the fact that no one wants to see an athlete go down with a serious injury, there is a measure of satisfaction in the huge silence coming from the smarty-pants-but-no-medical-degree crowd with the double Tommy John surgeries for Medlen, Beachy, Parker and Corbin in the last week, yes? I guess Mike Rizzo & Company had a pretty good sense of what they were doing when they limited Strasburg and Zimmermann in their recovery years. All of the aforementioned double Tommy Johns had their first surgery after Strasburg and Zimmermann.

Cross your fingers, knock on wood and say "I take that back, I take that back."

It is never too late to get hurt again.

The Braves thought they had good protocols and a good history of TJ results until, in the last 13 months, they had four important second TJs. Now they are reviewing everything they do. But, come on, this is a 'there but for the grace of God go I" situation for pitchers and those who try to rehab and protect them.

But the Nats DID handle Strasburg's innings shutdown correctly in '12. And those who disagree are still wrong. There are almost always two sides. But not absolutely always. (And once every 10 or 20 years it's really nice malicious fun to truly irritate some people by saying you know what's right.)

So the season has started with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks playing in Australia. Yet with the sports world caught up in March Madness, nobody is paying attention to baseball. Polls show MLB far behind football in popularity (no duh), and among young people, baseball ranks even lower. The playoff ratings are dropping. The nationally televised games are almost exclusively New York, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Even successful small-market teams like Oakland are lucky if ESPN features one of their games a year. And MLB does nothing to promote teams and players outside the majors markets of New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. How did MLB screw it all up?

That must be the reason for the record attendance (with the Nats average attendance of 32,745 only good enough for 11th last year) and revenues and the multi-billion-dollar cable TV deals because people just Can't Get Enough of their local teams.

Baseball is a great regional game, a very good national game (second to the NFL among major sports). And it's never been this healthy. The NBA, for example, always has two handfuls of dying or barely breathing no-chance franchises. Last year, MLB had 17 teams that averaged over 30,000 a game and 22 of 30 over 26,000. There are two or three sick franchises out of 30 and, as Jayson Stark points out in an annual exegesis, MLB blows away the NFL for "parity" by any standard of parity that anybody would care to concoct.

The NFL, NBA and NHL all have wonderful sports. Love 'em all. (Yes, in the last 10 years I've come to include hockey as "wonderful.") But baseball is booming. It's national TV presence is its weakest point of measurement. But it's not a sport where people in markets with a local team, especially a good local team, care deeply (and gamble deeply) on teams 2,000 miles away. But they care about the Nats 5th starter. That is TYPICAL across the country.

And you can be sure that O's fans are quite happy that they just traded for Steve Lombardozzi.

Great for Lombo, the local from Columbia, Md., and probably very good for O's, too, who've had a void at second base. In the minors, Lombardozzi's slash line was .298/.369/.411. That projects as a pretty productive MLB hitter and maybe a multi-season regular for somebody, especially because of his strong fundamentals, intangibles. But in MLB, never playing a full season every day, that fell to .264/.297/.342. That is a utility man level. You just can't get around it, especially since his range/arm are average. Can Lombo get 1/2-way back to his minor-league levels -- like .280/.333/.380? If he can, then the O's could solve their 2nd base problem for a few years and add a player who'll be popular (for good reasons) with fans and teammates. He deserves the shot. I hope he gets it.

I know this question is dated, but for the last few weeks, many Redskins fans have been upset that the team hasn't signed any top tier free agents. Has anyone considered that maybe the team wanted to sign them, but no top tier free agent wants to come to such a lousy, disfunctional team? I'm military so I move around the country every three years and very few people outside of the DC region actually thinks about the Redskins as anything more than an afterthought.

Good point. Not the one Skins fans want to hear. Did they "show restraint" in free agency. Or were they trying to use "Confederate money" to sign players?

When the Nats lost 100 games back-to-back, they had to overpay -- by a lot -- to sign Jayson Werth and change their image with free agents. I doubt that the Skins can comprehend that the rest of the league/country doesn't see them as the center of the universe and a dream football-career destination.

But it doesn't.

Maybe someday we'll find out which it was -- restraint or rejection. But I still think they improved. With a good draft and a healthier RGIII -- and without a head coach who undermines him -- they should win TWICE as many games next year. (I won't say how many that would be. It's too painful.)   

Bos, Sure, a 162-game season is a long slog, but it strikes me that given the Nats' futility vs. Atlanta last year, and the Braves' starting pitching woes, the six games the Nats play against them in the first 12 may have an outsized influence on the Nats' season. With Williams trying to establish an identity, the Nats trying to overcome last year's expectations, and the superficial sense that the Braves should be vulnerable without their elite SP corps, I'm worried that if the Nats stumble early on, their wounded psyche and need to press will resurface. The two teams won't play again until June. What is your take on the significance of those six early games on the season's prospects?

They're HUGE!

Unless it turns out that they aren't.

Ten of the Nats first 19 games are with the Braves and Cards who owned the Nats last year. BUT 17 of the Nats first 26 games are at home. So the opportunity is sitting there to have a fast start that puts a lot of pressure on the Braves whose rotation won't even be half sorted out by then. 

The next 30 days would be a good time to stay healthy -- the one thing you can't control. Last year, Nats had almost a 100 percent healthy spring, then the injuries started arriving. This year, same premise. We'll see.

Boz, what a blast it is to watch UVA basketball, it's true team play. Did you see any of their games this weekend? Do they have a shot at beating Michigan State?

It was fun to watch Virginia AND Wichita State show the best of team basketball. I've been rooting for both and didn't want to see either knocked out. Too much to hope that they could have met in the finals. (In theory they could have.)

Well, thanks, Kentucky. They play their one fundamentally sound game of the Calipari era. Okay, great game. Congrats. (Grrrr.)

Man, Michigan State with their history and Tom Izzo is a tough match for Virginia. Just looking at Izzo on the other bench doesn't exactly help. It's like "isn't that guy in the Final Four EVERY year?" (Hey, only six times.)

What were the biggest surprises of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend? Which teams do you think have the best chance to make the final four?

I know that Mercer over Duke was a somewhat popular upset pick, but it's STILL a huge upset. And a bad mark for Coach K. It's a good thing he's made of teflon with 10-inch steel armor. A bad week for big name coaches when 'Cuse loses to Dayton. When was the last time there were this many HIGH-seed upsets? A No. 1, TWO No. 2s and TWO No. 3s? I bet its been a LONG time. The Cinderella story line is used constantly but a lot of the upsets in the first week are NOT of No. 1-2-or-3 seeds.

Very surprised to see Kansas lose to Stanford. Talked to Tracee this a.m. She seemed to be taking it as well as could be expected.

The NHL regular season is a long grind and this year, the Caps didn't make the most of it. However, the recent west coast swing showed that they can run with the big dogs when they play a disciplined game, which is what is needed in the playoffs. Could this Caps team go farther than anyone expected just a month ago, especially of they start getting some top six scoring at five on five?

They have to start playing better than they have at home. And the lack of full-strength scoring by the top lines has been a mystery. Maybe that is flukey and it turns their way late in the season. Does putting Jay Beagle on the same line with Ovi inspire (or shame) him into playing more defense, getting back, preventing odd-man rushes?  

Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together and becomes the Nats true ace?


Okay, I said it. He looks different on the mond -- more the professional, less the distractable phenom. Adam had a wonderful story on Strasburg and his battle against perfectionism on Sunday. Don't miss it. Strasburg was very open, says that being a father has let him relax a little (not much) and admit (to himself) that he can't get upset by so many different little things.

When I wrote it, and I have, it was nagging. When he says it, it's insight. Well, insight into self leads to improvement. (Nagging doesn't have nearly as good a record.)

One classic anecdote in the Kilgore piece. McCatty asks Strasburg what his goal is in every game. SS says, "Throw a no-hitter." Cat asks Jordan Zimmermann if HE tries to throw a no-hitter every game. JZ says that he knows he gives up about a hit an inning so if he doesn't give up a hit in the first inning he figures a couple will arrive pretty soon. (McCatty probably laughed until he cried.)

Baseball does tend to reward realists.

Hi Boz, I was lucky to pick Saturday as my one spring training game to see last week. A microcosm of National storylines: Fister's terrific game after injury scare, Bryce's bonehead but brilliant outfield throw, Detwiler and Young from the bullpen and best of all, Danny's game winning HR + solid D. Did Danny just make it a lot harder for Matt to start "Tony" over him now. His swing looked really good.

The big point in that game, to me, was how excellent Fister looked. Anybody with a sore elbow in March worries you. So, I guess he's not totally in the clear yet. But he looks very imposing, works very fast, just looks like a dominant pitcher -- not just a good one. And his various (different) pick off moves show you what an excellent and quick athlete he is.

I think the homers probably did a lot more good for Danny's psyche than for his status on the team. I assume he's the back-up infielder to everybody. We'll know soon.

Couple of more quick ones and out of here. Thanks, everybody, for all the fine Qs. really helps. 

I seriously doubt Boeheim went into the Dayton locker room to congratulate the Dragons after their upset win.

Okay, that gets a whole bouquet of long-stemmed "!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Did you catch the Big East 30 for 30 on ESPN this week? If yes, what were your thoughts on it? If not, give it a watch - it is spectacular.

Heard it was great. Also listened to a very good interview with director. Recommend it highly -- sight unseen.

Hey Boz, who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? Don't think I read anything about him yet this year. Thanks!

The Centerfielder of the Future has not presented himself yet, imo. Nats are coming up with a lot of corner bats in the system. But it's the positions up the middle where a good hitter makes the most difference.

I always have difficulty understanding what a team's "identity" means. In the case of the Nationals is it being more "aggressive and taking more risks?" or "more attention to detail?" Or more "small ball?" "Or actually catching and throwing the ball to the right base?"

I'd settle for the last one on the list. It would be a big improvement over much of '13. 

Hello Tom: I assume that you long ago reached the conclusion that the expanded playoffs in American sports are more than worth the loss of importance of regular season games. But it is a different story in England. About 15 years ago my son and I became fans of the Arsenal football (soccer) club in the English Premier League. Every weekend we watch three or four games on television, and while I enjoy seeing my team win, I get even more enjoyment watching Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool lose or draw. EVERY game is important, not just because the EPL title goes to the team that finishes first in the regular season, but also because Champions League and Europa League eligibility and relegation (to a lower league) are all determined by standings at the end of the season. I am a long-time Orioles and Caps fan and I can't remember the last time that I watched an entire MLB or NHL regular season game that didn't involve one of those two teams. I think the American professional sports leagues are really missing something by not awarding a prestigious trophy to the team that finishes first at the end of the regular season. What do you think?

Excellent point.

I wonder how you could do it?

Perhaps an EXTRA home-field advantage in the playoffs for the best record in the league or the best record in the sport? A 3-2-2 structure? Seems too extreme, probably. But I remember the days of great pennant races where 100 wins barely beat 99 wins.

I covered the '80 Orioles who won 100 games and didn't make the post-season! And it made the entire season tense and amazing.

The Orioles acquired Steve Lombardozzi this morning - don't know if you saw it. Does this mean that J. Schoop will start the season in the minors? - he's having a great a great spring .400 BA; 1.12 OPS.

I know how high they are on Schoop. But Lombo might get his teeth into the job and not want to let go.

You're right, the hot prospect has a huge advantage over the player who is already tagged a "utlity man."

Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

Scouts are never paid enough, imo. But the Nats famous scouting raid a few years ago, led by Rizzo and Kasten, was focused more on giving the scouts they grabbed more respect within the organization rather than a lot more money.

But if anybody knows what a scout is worth, it's Rizzo.

Tom, I keep trying to avoid taking inventory of Tiger's health especially as it leads up to a major, but this back thing is very omnious. Apparently the problem started at the end of last season and blew up at Doral and Honda. Five months of stiffness/spasms is bad. All that swinging from age 2 really made him an old 38. Is this just another physical blip, or the start of a Freddie Couples-like chronic situation?

His back has been trouble since last August. Bad backs in golf can certainly be career changers. No "enders." But certaionly changers. If, at some level, you want to see Tiger as a sympathetic underdog -- against golf age and the price of his own youthful fanaticism that gave us such amazing feats -- then feel free.

Simple question (he said with a chuckle): Roark or Jordan for the No. 5 spot?


That's my clear preference, but it's close and there's no bad decision.

Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

Science is going to have to figure it out, not baseball.

Given the nearly immediate success of prospects like Zimmerman, Strasburg, Rendon and Harper after spending relatively little time in the minors, it is sometimes difficult to know how old a prospect "should" be at each level. Players like Souza and Walters seem to be legit prospects and are at AAA - is that the "normal" progression for people who may not be superstars but can be useful pieces?

Yes, Souza, Walters, Skole, Taylor Jordan are more "normal." But a 27-year-old like Roark getting his first real shot is a "late bloomer." Once you pass 25, the clock is really ticking.

Boz - Your Tiger column didn't mention steroids at all. Common sense (at least common sense in the steroid age) says he was on them for several years when he got super big. It also says in part he's paying a price now for that as well. But common sense, as with Barry Bonds, doesn't make journalistic proof. When will we see someone find that smoking gun?

Has ANY golfer been nailed for steroids? (No. The total that I am aware of is "Zero.") So I'm surprised at how brave many are to insinuate about Woods. It's a real guilt-by-association case, at best. But I suspect it is a case that some have already been "on." My operating assumption until something changes: The longer nothing comes out the more likely that nothing will. 

Does it really matter? Whoever it is will either perform adequately, or he'll get bumped for the other guy after a few starts. Fister's arm, Zim's shoulder, etc ... are much bigger deals than the No. 5 starter.


On teams that do NOT have viable options, the fifth starter can be a big deal because you can be seriously out of luck in 30 or more starts. But when you have 'em circling like planes over LaGuardia the way the Nats do, it ain't a real big problem.

A league average player will earn about two WAR is a season, FWIW. Relievers less since they pitch rather infrequently. Nine hitters + five starting pitchers = 14 players = 28 WAR + the 45-50 for a replacement level team = 75-ish wins. Throw in bits and pieces from the bullpen and you get the low 80's of a .500 team. And that's what you'd expect from a roster of entirely average players.

Thanks. Hope that helps our chatting friend.

Even with the baseball season officially underway from Down Under, stories over the weekend focused on both Desmond and Scherzer rejecting long-term deals from their teams. While the Nats are focused on winning now, should their be concern about their ability to sign the desired players (Desmons/JZimm/Harper/Strasburg) to long-term deals now, or just assume they only will stay through the remainder of their contracts/arbitration years? Does it make sense that the Nats bought out Desi's arbitration years if he isn't willing to sign long-term?

There's time. The Elvis Andrus contract -- 10 years for >$140M with two opt-out years for Andrus to escape at 29 and 30 -- blew the doors off the SS market. Nobody is doing anything wrong. The price of poker for Desmond just got very high because of the actions of others. You can't expect Desmond to sell himself cheap. And you can't ask the Nats to be in a rush to sign a player is there doesn't seem to be much home-town discount. What is meant by "big money" changes constantly. It's nobody's fault. It's the animal.

The Braves spent a lot of money to lock up everyday players earlier than they had to do it. Now it turns out that, long term, they may need starting pitchers. It's a tough racket.   

Boz, You recently wrote about the Caps and their window closing. I would agree that this team right at the moment is not a Stanley Cup contender, but to say the championship window for the Ovechkin era is over seems awfully premature. With the arrival of Kuznetsov, and his blinding skill, and the fact that their core players, (Ovi, Backstrom, Carlson, Alzner, maybe Holtby) are all under 30, doesn't this team just need more like a refurbishing (ideally handled by a new GM with fresh eyes?) Give Wilson a shot on the second line, resign Grabo, trade Brouwer or Ward for a D-man, try to upgrade the defense in free agency, as well---this team seems like it still has the makings of a contender in a year or two if the right moves are made. Thoughts?

In pro sports an "open window" has a very specific meaning to people who make decisions -- trades, contracts. It means you are clearly one fo the elite teams -- maybe 6-to-8 per sport -- who are OBVIOUS serious contenders and if they don't run their teams with that knowledge in mind they are being foolish. The Nats window, for example, is clearly open.

The Caps still have a CHANCE. But a LOT of second-tier team -- after those first 6 or 8 -- always have a chance. And sometimes they end up playing for a Cup.

IMO, it's more than semantics. It's a significant distinction.

During this soon to be concluded off-season (if you don't count Opening Day in Australia) I've been working on seeing every baseball movie in the Onondaga County Public Library System (Syr. NY.) This has included a lot of fiction but also Ken Burn's series. One of the things I've learned is the old cliche, "You've got to play them one game at a time." And it's true. You never know what's going to happen. A month ago, here in Syracuse, people were talking about an undefeated season and now the Orange has just lost it's sixth out of nine games and is done for the season. Last year, the night before the baseball season began, I posted on the Nationals' website I didn't want to forget where we've been in Washington. I grew up a Senators' fan knowing almost nothing but losing, losing, losing, and being considered a joke. We are now part of the conversation, individual players get national attention. I don't want to forget that and will try to enjoy having a good team regardless of expectations or final outcomes.

Well said.

But the Nationals themselves actually do have those kinds of high expectations. That's part of the reality of writing about them.

But "enjoy what you've got" sounds like wisdom to me.

Hi Tom, love the chats and columns. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how to fix the NBA Draft (or if it needs fixing). At the moment, many teams seem to have a contend-or-tank mindset, trying to avoid perpetual mediocrity. I suspect this might be a cyclical mindset, and that when a so-so non-playoff team hits the lottery and becomes a good playoff team, the league mindset might change to "let's stay as good as we can so that if we hit the lottery, we can make a big jump." But there is certainly a lot of tanking going on right now and in recent years past...

Tanking is a serious NBA problem because anybody who studies the leagues drafts -- and you know I'm a draft history nut -- knows that the league has been defined by history-changing players and they WERE NOT A SECRET when they were drafted. Red Auerbach made a big trade a year AHEAD of time (with the St. Louis Hawks) so that he could  get Bill Russell --which led to a few titles. (I wish I could remember the details of the Russell trade. Sorry.)  

Where there is sufficient motivation there will be larceny.

Will it be Jamey Carroll? Versatility, experience, good plate discipline. Seems to offer more in-game strategic options than having both Moore and Hairston, who duplicate each other's skill sets. Or is Hairston no longer a roster lock? Williams seemed non-comittal of late.

I've changed my mind a few times. If the words intangibles and fundamentals mean anything -- and I think they do -- then I guess I'd go with Carroll. I do think he has them. 

Considering the growing popularity from LTAM, Asia, Australia, even the Netherlands, has there ever been such talent, and depth, in MLB? Now it seems that most teams can trot out an army of fireballers, and we see brilliant athletes like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and others choosing baseball over the NFL's shortened, brutal careers. Imagine Mike Trout or Bryce Harper as running backs or linebackers?

In that NFL sense of which just seems/looks more imposing, Strasburg may still be formidable looking than Harper. Anyway, it's close. And several others aren't far behind. It's a far cry from the old days. When you put >$100M on the table, and almost no chance of life-changing injury, it attracts large people who are willing to work very hard.

Boz, I was in the stands for last Wednesday night's game between the Nats and Astros in Viera. During Clippard's inning he hit one of the Astros best hitters on the arm. The sound it made was troubling. Did you ever hear if he was seriously injured? An aside, I find Clippard difficult to watch. He is so deliberate and takes so much time in between pitches. It was quite a contrast to Taylor Jordan who got the ball, got the sign, and threw. I like the way Jordan pitches.

I was there. It looked bad and I tweeted about it. The guy who got hit was Carlos Correa, the first overall pick in the '12 draft! So it was a big deal to the Astros. He's just your basic 6-foot-4, 210-pounbd shortstop with unlimited upside. He was okay by the next day. He looks like he's made of titanium -- which may help. 

That's it for today. You people have to stop the with the flood of great questions. Okay, okay, DON'T STOP.

But I have to. I'll chat next Monday from New York before the first pitch of Mets-Nats Opening Day. Cheers to that!

Regarding the comment made earlier about how the European leagues don't have postseasons the way ours do, one MAJOR difference is that European soccer typically has a balanced schedule and a single standings table (no conferences or divisions). Everyone typically plays everyone else twice (like ACC basketball was until 2004) and the team that finishes first is the champion. That doesn't work in the major US leagues because we have too many teams and either too many (MLB, NHL, NBA) or too few (NFL) games. The NFL, for example, has 32 teams, but teams play only 16 games. So a European-style single-table setup wouldn't work.

Thanks for the continuing  education.

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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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