The Washington Post

Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 31, 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

Hi Boz! I'm 46 years old and have never had this feeling. Something clicked today. I'd heard about it and believed it, but hadn't yet truly felt it. After about six years of being a fan I woke up today with the chill bumps (the good kind) and worried about the weather in Flushing, NY. I read Kilgore's piece on Desi and cried tears of joy. I'm a mess. A wonderful giddy mess. Here we go! Wahoo! Yippee! Yaaaaaaayyy!!! That is all :)

Well, well, Opening Day must be here!

I think Ian may have cried a tear or two of appreciation for the depth of Adam's piece. He is the key man for leadership when Werth gets older. 

I had some goose bumps myself this a.m., but that's just me.

Okay, you want an Opening Day gift? Here it is from Matt Williams. He HAS been thinking about serious batting order changes. If you look back at my column on the subject a few weeks ago I think you'll see he addressed all the issues though he had one, in my opinion, bombshell: Ramos is batting cleanup and that's apparently where he will stay as long as he produces there. And Zimmerman will hit No. 2 where he did so much of last year once Davey switched him there for 42 games.





Harper -- more RBI chances, less spotlight pressure.

Desmond -- Has his best numbers in that spot.

LaRoche -- career slugging percentage over .600 at No. 7



If Ramos can do the job at 4, it almost completely erases the Nats major problem of finding a No. 2 hitter -- something they often lacked in '13 until Z'man took the task.

Tom, with Ryan Mattheus, Sammy Solis, Zach Walters, Tyler Moore, Steven Souza, AJ Cole, Matt Skole, and Blake Treinen pounding on the door, what kind of performance anxiety does that put on the bullpen, Adam LaRoche in his comeback year, and a marginal player like Scott Hairston? Also, is there such a thing as a dumb question? What happens if Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark completely dominate a couple starts and then Fister is ready to return?

LaRoche is such a vet that nothing like that would cross his mind. If he hits like he has almost always hit, then that solves itself. If he doesn't, that's a different problem but not caused by players "behind him"

Hairston should feel some pressure. If both Roark and Jordan do well...well...oh, just enjoy it. But Fister comes back into the rotation, without question.  

What do you see as their most serious weakness? Last year the defense and especially holding runners was so bad and there does not seem to be much improvement this year, may have even regressed with Lobaton turning singles into triples with his poor throwing. Hoping that Yips Zimmerman recovers and the kid learns to hit a cutoff man so our pitchers don't need to always try for strikeouts.

In spring training the most improved feature of the Nats was the much lower error rate -- only eight errors in 27 spring training by the players on the Opening Day roster, including pitchers, too. None for Zimmerman, though he had a wide throw that should have been scored an error. Cutting errors is a big deal to Matt Williams. So far the guys he's put on the 25-man roster have obeyed orders. Now it counts.

Boz, Kudos to the WaPo sports department for the amount and quality of Nats coverage. The reporting this spring has been incredible from all of you - we're a long way from 2005. It really got me excited for the season, and now it's upon us!

Thanks. Adam and James do a fabulous job. Baseball beat writing was always just about as time intensive as any job in journalism and probably had more tough deadlines and need for multiple stories for various editions than ANY job in journalism. But now, with 24/7 cycle, blog posts, tweets, it's MUCH tougher than it's ever been. 

I really suspect readers can't imagine the hours and aggravations. Of course it's not like covering a war. Or exposing an organized crime gang. Or Watergate. But any and all praise you want to heap on Adam and James, feel free.

FYI, the Opener is on MASN2, not MASN. I see one chatter was confused. Don't worry. It's on TV.

Just for arguments sake lets say that the Skins still have the second overall pick in the upcoming draft. What do you think they would do? Get the best available player, trade down for additional picks or trade up to get Clowney (just kidding on the last one)?

Now THAT is a painful question! Yes, it shows the total value of what was given up for RGIII. I'm not going to say that you asked "a Clowney question, bro."

Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson, among others, said managers only affect the outcome of 2-3 games a season. But look at Francona with the Indians, Showalter with the Oruioles, even Davey when he first took over the Nats. Even pitching and hitting coaches can (seem to) have an immediate impact. But that's[ why we love baseball. Despite the increasing and increasing and increasing use of statistics, nothing is ever certain.

Good point.

I thought of one key idea that could have been part of my Sunday piece on the value of managers -- but I thought of it TOO LATE to get in the story.

The GAP between the best manager and the worst manager may be as great as the difference between the best player (a Cabrera with a WAR of +7, +8 or even higher) and the worst player (a WAR of -1 or -2) BECAUSE the worst manager PLAYS EVERY DAY. You can't get rid of the bad manager until the day you finally fire him. Until then, he's not only "in play" for 162 games but writes the lineup, makes every pitching change. How many loses is a manager having an awful year really worth -- like Bobby Valentine with the '12 Red Sox who lost 93 games? No player EVER has a WAR of -5.0 or -0.7 because you'd get him the hell off the field.

So, even if we posit that a great manager probably isn't worth as much as a Trout/Pujols/Cabrera at their best (+9.0 or +10.0) -- maybe he's only a +4 or +5, the WORST manager really might be -5.0 WAR or worse.

Getting the right manager matters. But identifying the bad manager may be almost as important. To illustrate, the Red Sox improved by 28 wins last year and won the Series as soon as John Farrell replaced Valentine. I think it's entirely possible that Farrell -- if you could concoct a manager's WAR -- might be +3, but Valentine might have been -7 -- for a gap of 10 wins in value.

Would have been nice if I'd thought of that earlier. But slightly better late than never.

I've been waiting since September 29th to say it. That is all.

I've heard a few "Happy New Year"s today.

BTW, the weather looks a LOT better here. Still chilly, maybe gets to 50 at game time, but rain has stopped, isn't expected to return. (Look, ma, I'm trusting the weatherman.) Except for gray skies, a fairly typical chilly opener. McCatty, who is from Michigan: "Good baseball day. Little snow. Little grittiness."

(It was snowing, just flurries, when I got to Citi Field field at 9:30.)

Did Davy ever stop by?

Don't think so. If so, not reported or mentioned. Very few big personality potential-HOF managers would show up the next spring training and take attention from the new manager. This is what I expected. Especially with Davey, I'd have been shocked if he came back.

I enjoyed your column on managers a couple of days ago. What is your opinion of Dick Williams as manager in relation to the others you mentioned? He was one of the autocratic ones and wore out his welcome after a few years with each of his teams, but he had a lot of success. At least he didn't seem like the psychopath that Billy Martin was. Thanks for your comments.

Martin was the definition of a sociopath (but probably not a psychopath). Within the last two weeks, Dick Williams name came up and I said he was the biggest jacka** among managers I'd observed in my early days. I've forgotten who said it but the response was: "When he felt like it he was one of the funniest men I ever met." And apparently he relaxed (some) after he retired. But he seemed to wake up every morning trying to find somebody to insult or belittle.  But in his generation of managers he wasn't alone in that behavior.

I kinda miss the abusive ultra-arrogant manager. When will we ever get another tape recording of a tirade with more expletives deleted than words included -- like the Tommy Lasorda classic.

Can we hope this actually starts to happen aiding the breakup of the college sports cartels?

I've never been in favor of changing the current NCAA payment system for athletes -- under the table, according to your value, plus a scholarship. I don't approve it, of course, I just don't think you can improve it. It's an inherently totally corrupt, and corrupting environment. I saw it in the years I covered high school sports -- high school stars who were lured with promises of $35K-a-year from boosters. If you pay them directly in any way, then 100 percent of the current grafty-and-gift system -- whatever it actually is -- will simply be added on top of the official sanctioned payment.

If the total rule-breaking amount of payments (in all forms) to NCAA athletes is now $XX-million, then if you pay then $X-million in sanctioned payments, then the total future value of Cash To Athletes will just be $XX-million plus $X-million.

This may be the only subject on earth on which I am a total cynic. But I saw what college sports was like up close for about a dozen years covering preps, then college hoops. It was indeed ironic to hear John Thompson's GU program criticized for everything under the sun in the '70's and '80's when, if you were "on the ground" in the recruiting wars of those years, you knew that the Hoyas were one high-profile team on which the word was out to players -- you will NOT get paid by boosters because Big John would go nuts if they tried. 

Instead of individual projections, I would rather project the top six hitters.... LaRoche, Desmond, Zimmerman, Ramos, Harper, and Werth. If they can average 25 HRs and 85 RBIs the Nats will be a force on offense. If one of them (Harper) has a breakout year, then it will be a jailbreak year. On the other hand, if three get hurt and two underperform it won't matter if Harper hits 50 HRs. Opening Day is the Best Day of the Year.

Good points. Nats certainly expect to get ~20 homers, or more in some cases, from every spot in the order from 2-through-7 with Rendon (if he stays at No. 8) adding 10 or 12.

Just a guess, but a lot of potential for long balls. That's PART of what the Nats need. But one of their greatest weaknesses last year was the inability to manufacture even one extra run in close low-scoring games against good pitching. The "third run" killed them time and again. Getting run No. 3 and run No. 4 is SO much more important than the ability to come to party and get runs No. 7-to-infinity.

One reason the Nats have put Harper at No. 5 is to take some pressure/spotlight off him. They don't put it that way. But a couple of vets, who love Harper, think it's a good spot for him so he can relax a bit and hit with more people on base -- and not much place to put him.  Also, Harper has stolen just as many bases per game when he's hit fifth as he's stolen when in other lineup spots. (I was surprised when I looked it up. He does not "stop running" at No. 5. But if his knee, or anything else, barks at him he can stop stealing and, at No. 5, nobody will notice, care or complain.)

Just started reading Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding to get into the mood for the season. It got me wondering what your favorite baseball novels might be.

Not many. Baseball has produced ten tons of good writing but not much of it fiction. That's becaused baseball depth of character, plot, action, humor and sadness simply shames imagination. As a result, baseball fiction either seems pale beside the game itself or else, to seem like a heightened for of the game, has to be so overwrought and exaggerated that it's bad fiction from page one. "In the novel, character is fate." Forget who said it. It applied specifically to 19th century fiction. Because the 162-game format shows us so much about people -- and reveals personality to every person INSIDE the ga me -- there is a tendency for "character to become fate" in baseball, too. But since the game is real, sometimes "character is irrelevent" and the damn Yankees (or now Dodgers) just bought another pennant.

"Bang the Drum Slowly," which gets neglected.

But even the ballplayer diaries, like "The Long Season" by Jim Brosnan and "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton, appeal to me more than most baseball fiction which, to me, is just unnecessary.

BTW, the player who is most statistically similar to Strasburg as the same age is Fergy Jenkins (HOF). Because baseball has a sense of humor, the SECOND closest comparable to Strasburg at the same age is JIM BOUTON, the tell-all author. Bouton was an excellent hard-throwing 20-game winner with the Yanks early in his career but hurt his arm (I think) and faded pretty fast.

Now that some time has passed, what's your take on what got Mike Shanahan a divorce from the Redskins? All over the owner's relationship with the QB? It never made sense.

A writer and friend that I respect reacted to the mention of Shanahan's name recently by saying, "What an awful human being." He'd had more and longer direct contact with him than I've had. But maybe that had something to do with it.

I will say that, by the end, I'd have ranked Shanny very close to the bottom for redeeming personal virtues among all the pro coaches in all the major sports in D.C. that I've encountered. I can't remember anybody who went out so badly, so vindictively. But he could COACH -- X's and O's. And evaluate players (at some positions, not others). That's all he wanted to be. Those abilities, and RGIII's great season, were central to the NFL East title in '12. But in dealing with people? He was out of the past -- My Way  Mike. That only works when you win -- a lot. Most of the tough-guy NFL coaches are, in part, tough for public consumption but can still deal with players constructively in their office. Jay Gruden's biggest advantage is that he follows Shanahan. 

Let's say Roark and Jordan are lights out good over the next month. ERAs under 2.5. Do you shop Fister?

Fister is totally established. You just give him the ball and enjoy it. No young pitcher can truly prove himself in one month -- unless he has Matt Harvey stuff.

With the Capitals suffering from a host of what seems like coaching issues (inability to hold 2-goal leads, giving up goals right after scoring one, sloppy defense and now shootout futility), is it time to seriously think about ending the Adam Oates experiment?

Oates is about as smart about his sport as any DC coach in quite a while. He's right there with the best. Just a really sharp quick mind, insightful about people and infatuated with every aspect of hockey. How much of that translates to coaching others? I'd say give this guy a long rope because, if he ever gets the team to turn the corner, he could be your coach, and a good one, for a long time.

Caps fans are all out on the same ledge. I get it. But it is all those OTHER seasons when they had the ability to do something special, but didn't, that should make you (still) want to jump. This year? Medicore talent having a medicore season against a tougher schedule. All as expected, at least here.

The Eagles cut Jackson rather than trade him. Does that point to underlying problems? Does Washington need the drama?

Using every last cent of your cap space to get Jackson from the same team that traded McNabb to you -- yes, that would be a recent-vintage Skins move.

Stan Kasten used to rage at what he thought was the Skins announcing big news every year on Opening Day. (Stan, just a little paranoid?) What did he expect of the Champions of the Off-Season.

Jackson -- what a gift to give Gruden. But so Skins. Hey, he's talented, he's killed us, he's available, we're been criticized...

This is when the quality of your "intel" is so important. Do you trust the Skins' deep-depth knowledge of Jackson? Because when a division rival cuts a name player, you better be sure.

Ripken ... he's got the baseball stuff down pat, has he got the business acumen? Would they consider him? Would he want it? Great PR for MLB anyway ...

No. Not his cup of tea or skill set.

In Kilgore's profile of Ian Desmond, he's quoted as saying he wants to stay with the Nats for his entire career. How do you explain the rejected contract? Do you think it's likely the Nats will be able to retain him?

"Market value" is a constantly moving target in MLB. And it always moves up. It's just a question of how fast. The longer you wait, the more you end up chasing your own player. IMO, you decide whether he's absolutely central. If you say, "Yes," then don't look too hard for a "team discount." Pay market value.

The Nats only have one player "up the middle" who stays healthy and has a big track record -- Desmond. Ramos has had injuries. CF is still unsettled for the future, so is second.

I'd say, "Yes" to Desmond as central.

And, as a Braves fan, I appreciate the references to Bobby Cox. My question is, why the fixation on numbering pitchers in the rotation? I've heard from them (the players) that it is lost on them/meaningless, beyond telling them who'll be throwing when and that, even then, they don't associate numbers with it, just their names and turn in the rotation.

It's just a kind of shorthand for describing levels of talent. If you think a pitcher can (or has already) won ~20 games, then he's a No. 1. So, the Nats have three No. 1s. For talent, the Braves probably had a No. 1 already in Medlen and others with that potential -- Minor, Teheran, Beachy. No sure Nats fans quite appreciate the talent of the Brave rotation because they haven't (yet) had the break out years in the "counting stats" like Gio (21 wins), Z'mann (19).

I admit that this question is a copy of a comment I made to Friday's article about Jordan Zimmermann, but I was hoping to get your thoughts. Last year, Detroit (Scherzer, Fister, and Sanchez) and St. Louis (Wainwright, Lynn, and Miller) both had the most wins from three starters with 49. Detroit added 13 wins from Porcello and 13 from Verlander to crush everyone else with 75 wins from five tarters. I hate to jinx things, but doesn't it look like the Nats should get at least 50 wins from Zimmermann, Strasburg, and Gio this season? And might they even get close to 75 when you add in Fister and the fifth starter? I think Zimmerman, Strasburg, and Gio might all get somewhere in the 16-20 win area this season if they stay healthy.

That's a LOT of wins for starters. Give me three pitchers with high winning PERCENTAGES -- yes, run dependent. Like Boston's 12-1,. 15-8 and 11-6 last year. That's +23 wins over .500 and a good start toward their 97 wins.

That's it for today. About time to enjoy Opening Day! The sun is now out here at Citi Field. May be temporary. But the grass sure does look green!

Boz, $144.5 mil is nothing to sneeze at but it seems like Trout left a lot of money on the table. Why did he do it? Whatever the reason, Scott Boras certainly threw cold water on the idea that any of his clients will sign for any kind of discount. It's looking less and less like we'll be able to keep Desi, J Zimm, Stras, and Bam Bam (I know they're not all Boras clients). Do you think the pitchers are more likely to leave? Thanks!

Trout looked out for himself. That's his right. But THE BEST player in the game at any particular time has, for decades, been considered by other players to have a (union or brotherhood-of-ballplayers) responsibility to use his stature and leverage to take salaries up -- for everybody. "Everybody" also means the 20th-to-25th men.

Maybe baseball revenues, thanks to RSN deals and MLB's gusher on internet-related cash, are so high and player salaries so high, too, that such considerations matter less now. Maybe. But you can be sure that other players noticed that the No. 1 Player -- not just any player -- took a very team-friendly deal.

P.S.: I will be chatting next TUESADAY at 11, not next Monday. Thanks.

Thoughts on the lineup? How about Ramos hitting cleanup?! Guessing this order will change pretty often ie when Lobaton starts, McLouth plays, ect..

I like the lineup, though it certainly puts plenty of responsibility on Ramos, who's never had a full healthy season, when you have two $126-million hitters, plus Harper, who also profile as potential cleanup men.

The key is that this lineup puts the most players in spots where they have done well in the past -- IF, IF Ramos can handle cleanup. It's a lot to ask, especially of a catcher who already has the most defensive responsibility on the field.

Span's always hit leadoff, likes it. Z'man doesn't care, hit equally well in every spot and understands that this is a team-first construiction. Werth prospers at 3-4-5, but hitting him third uses his remaining base-running ability while putting Ramos (slow) in a spot where many slow runners have been huge positive forces for their teams. Desmond and LaRoche have their best stats at 6 and 7.   

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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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