Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 21, 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

Tom, Here's hoping that this week's British Open is a look into the future. I would like to see McIlroy and Fowler (and Speith) slug it out over ten years of major weekends. Since Tiger never had a worthy rival that Jack had with Arnie, Gary and Tom, the golf fans need some instantly classic duels. (Speaking of Tom Watson: the R & A should make all five-time Open champs eligible for life. Only ones living are Watson and Peter Thompson.)

This was exactly the result, and the leaderboard that golf needed -- and needed badly.

Rory is, by a clear margin, the most charismatic of the young stars -- 360-yard drives, a bit of a sense of humor, candid, not a perfect player (streaky), so he's seen as human, not a machine. He can run away with a major, as he's done three times, or shoot a 40 for 9 holes and blow himself out of contention, as he's done five times this year.

Rickie Fowler has really grown up in the last year or so -- his game, his demeanor and his ability to play well under pressure. I was a little concerned for a while that he'd be the American equivalent of Sergio Garcia -- a lot of hype and personal style very early in his career but a big-stage disappointment. Fowler still only has one PGA Tour win. But I think that's temporary, especially after his second-place finishes at both Opens.

Like about half the golf world, I've been a Sergio knocker. (He won the Washington tour stop (and a ton of $) several years ago at CCC, then let himself be advertized as a drawing card the next year for the event at Avenel, then withdrew at the last moment, but, if memory serves, still managed to play in an exhibition in Europe. That breaks every golf code -- last year's champ ALWAYS returns). Anyway, I've been ready for a while to see Sergio get his major. OK by me. Thought he really played well the first 14 holes on Sunday but the last four holes he was the old automatic-gag Sergio in the clutch, starting with shot into trap at 15, then leaving it in the bunker. Every putt and most shots after that were nervous or weak. It's tough to shoot -15 and not look like you're poised to win a major someday, but he didn't.

With Adam Scott, Rory and others golf may get a worthy next wave. That was a great day for golf, not just for McIlroy.

As cautiously optimistic as I am about the signings of Pierce and Humphries to the frontcourt, I was equally concerned about the no signing for backcourt depth except Garrett Temple. Both Wall and Beal logged a ton on minutes last season, and there is little quality depth behind them. Andre Miller appears at best an 8-12 minute per night player. How should we read Grunfeld's moves now that they dust has settled?

I like the way free agency has shaken out very well for the Wiz -- if Pierce has even one more good year left in him, and I think he does. Sorry to lose Booker. You're right that Miller (Pierce's buddy) is limited in minutes but I assume Martell Webster will be back from injury to contribute some. (What month is he due back?)

Wiz now a very interesting team, especially with Durant-to-DC in two years at least a sane discussion and not just a fantasy.

With Nats failing to sign two top 10 picks and Astros failing to sign their 1/1 pick, it seems like something has to change regarding the bonus pool and MLB attempts to tamp down signing bonuses. Your thoughts?

The Nats needed to sign their No. 1 pick -- Fedde --because mid-first-round picks have a decent chance to develop. As for not signing their mid-second-round pick, my reaction is "meh." Go back in draft history -- by that spot your chances of getting a big-leaguer are about 10-to-1. There have been a FEW decent ones in recent years -- Gyorko, Andrelton Simmons (!), Billy Hamilton, Patrick Corbin. But as long as they got Fedde -- and get two second round picks next year because they didn't sign their No. 2 this year, I think the Nats draft was fine.

As for changes to the system, that's a question for another day, but I'm always on the side of the amateur players who are shafted by the MLB salary suppression system in the draft. Any young man who says "No," is OK by me. Not "ungrateful" or anything like that. Just thinks he wasn't given a fair offer and is willing to roll the dice on himself the next year.   

Matt Wieters and several other players who were named to the team but were replaced due to injury attended and were introduced at the game. Was Z'mann given thus option? I read he was disappointed that he couldn't attend. Also, why was Clippard rather than Soriano chosen to replace him?

Soriano was annoyed and said he wasn't going if he wasn't on the original squad because he thought he'd earned it. He didn't say it quite that bluntly, but he said it -- taking four days back home.

My impression was that J Z'mann could have come if he'd wanted. He'd just had that arm problem and probably wanted to get treatment, plus time off, rather than All-Star hoopla.

Nats now have best winning percentage (by .001) and best run differential in N.L. (+65) -- so it may be looked on as quite odd that they only had one All-Star available to play. There were plenty of possibilities for what amounted to about the 40th N.L. AS pick.

Boz, what was your take and the general consensus of the "unintentional interference" call on Span at second base? Seems to me if they got the out at first, there wasn't interference and Span was safe. I've never seen a safe runner called out at second for getting in the thrower's way, doesn't he have full right to the bag and the area around it?

I still haven't figured out that play. I only saw it on replay, not in real time with all the debate. But Span was clearly safe at second and was just finishing a normal ( to me) slide and Rendon was clearly out at first. So, after the challenge, Span was out at second and Rendon was out at first! 

Injury??? What's his problem??/ Time to trade him before the deadline!

Ah, the Strasburg mystery. Even the Nerds can't decide what kind of year he is having. The two sacred versions of WAR (wins above replacement) are at FanGraphs and BaseballReference. They completely disagree on Strasburg's season. (So how perfect can their methodology be?)

FanGraphs has Strasburg as thee 13th most valuable pitcher in MLB this year -- just unlucky because of astronomikcal ~.350 BABIP -- with a WAR of 2.9 wins already in Nats first 96 games. Only Nat higher in their WAR is Reendon (3.3.). Z'mann is 2.8, Werth 2.6, Roark 2.0, Desmond 1.8, Span 1.7.

BaseballReference's WAR thinks Strasburg's pretty lousy this year. Top Nat is Rendon, followed by ROARK (!!!) 2.8, Span (!) 2.o, Z'mann 1.9, LaRoche 1.9, Soriano 1.8, Werth and Fister at 1.7.

I'd say BaseballReference is looking pretty shaky there.

Strasburg reminds me of Blyleven who took a half-dozen years to turn his great stuff into roughly appropriate results. Like Strasburg, Blyleven was fast, but not the fastest, but had the best curveball of his era (as unhittable as Strasburg's changeup.)

He has no injury. Trading him would be nuts. He's, at least, a very good pitcher and, at best, an almost-excellent one who's had bad luck this year. He's completely corrected hiss problem with base stealers.

Got an e-mail from a friend who played pro ball and whose father was in the big leagues for a decade (a contemporary of Robin Roberts). So, my friend says that his dad (got that) thinks Strasburg has a problem similar to Roberts -- won't or can't throw his fastball inside, hitters get too comfortable and Roberts (like SS) gave up more homers than you'd think his stuff should allow.

Well, Roberts won 20 games six years in a row and, like Blyleven, is in the HOF. So, it'd be great if Strasburg turned out to be that "bad."

Buit it's a fact that, this year, SS's fastball -- though the eigth fastest in baseball -- has been one of the least effective fastball's in all of baseball. Part of that is bad luck on BABIP. But, my two cents, he needs to bust hitters inside more, and more effectively, at 95-96 to open up the outside corner more. And he may need to try some different fastball grips for '15 if this pattern continues to gave a little different movement on the pitch. (Darvish uses so many different grips that he has four different kinds of fastball.)

But, for right now, DO NOTHING. He's healthy. His Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) predicts he'll end up having a fine season. Let it play out.    

In 2012 Gio went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. That pitcher seems lost in the mists, unlikely to return. What happened to that dominant pitcher? Can he get it back?

Baseball fans were just born to worry, I guess.

There's nothing at all wrong with Gio. He's actually improved his change up. He allows less men onm base now than he did as an All-Star in Oakland. He just had a >20-inning scoreless streak.

Here are Gio's core numbers from '10-through-'13 -- four outstanding seasons. Per 9 innings: 7.5 hits, 0.7 homers, 3.8 walkss, 8.7 K's. This year: 7.5. 0.6, 3.7, 9.3.

Gee, same guy! His four-year FIP and WHIP were 3.42 and 1.252. This year, 3.28 and 1.246.

Relax. Enjoy the summer and the games.

When a coach/staff is replaced/fired/retired who has possession/owns the playbook? Is it the former head coach, offensive/defensive coordinators or the team he worked for?

After everybody has seen it and studied it and had a chance to copy every bit of it, I'd take a wild guess that it isn't much of a secret anymore!

The new coach doesn't give a mouse's tail for the old coach's playbook. That guy got fired. Hey, look at MY great NEW playbook! 


Not the most critical sports question ever, but do you have any idea why there was no submarine horn sounding at the Nats game yesterday? They usually sound it for home runs and wins, but we didn't hear it on yesterday's radio broadcast.

There's usually a submarine horn?

(Yes, I know there is. Yet I don't think I have ever noticed it. But then I'd kind of the focused-on-one-thing/oblivious-to-the-universe type.)

What is the likelihood that the Wizards can bring in Kevin Durant in two years? They certainly seem to be setting themselves up for a run at him. Also, wouldn't that make the Cleveland/Washington games the most compelling in the league?

Unknowable. But since I've heard WASHINGTON sports "pundits" say 50-50 I guess that means its really about 1-in-3 or 1-in-4. Every town overrates its own chances in everything -- (including the chance that it'll rain today). 

Mr B Were Rory's golf shoes yesterday the ugliest ever? And Sally was right about Fowler; the kid needs to learn how to wear a hat! MVMD

Re Fowler: it's the horrid fate of every generation in human history to have to endure the hideous fashion taste of every generation both before and after it.

If I could learn to enjoy Chad Cordero's Cali-look flat-brim-hat look 10 years ago, I can adapt to anything.

I noticed Rory's shoes several times and kind of liked them. Of course, I'm wearing Fred Couples golf/walking shoes right now with red soles. (But, no, I don't have a pair of Freddie's lime-green ones.)

I'm I the only person who would rather have any other Nat besides Strasburg on the mound or Harper at the plate when the game is on the line? And assuming these two are liabilities in the clutch is that a handicap the Nats can overcome?

Lets take this question sideways. There's always been too much hype about both SS and BH. It's inescapable. The scouts who evaluated them aren't dopes. They were universally seen -- correctly or not -- as huge once-a-decade (or whatever) talents. They have both produced quite well. If they had been drafted No.2-overall in their draft seasons -- and never had an SI cover -- we'd ALL be saying, Strasburg and Harper are Wonderful.

Why? Strasburg's career ERA+ -- that is ERA adjusted for norms of the period and home ballpark -- is 124. That's exactly the same as Mike Mussina, Juan Marichal,David Price, Cole Hamels and Justin Verlander. BTW, Strasburg turned 26 on Sunday. (Why not say, "Happy birthday," and "Glad you're arm still feels good after all those genius pitching-mechanics experts with their 'reverse W' theories said your career would be over by this age.  

The best comparable number for Harper is OPS+. His career mark is 123. Amazing! Styrasburg is 24 percent better than the average MLBer in ERA and Harper is 23 percent better than the average MLBer in OPS! Compsd for Harper's career 123 are Roy Campenela, Kirk Gibson, Jeff Kent and the Tigers Victor Martinez. 

So, they're doing fine.

BUT they do not define the Nats. They are not the Team Identity -- or anything like it. Nott from the inside anyway.

Lets combine the Nats WARs from '12 through now and see who's contributed the most bonus "wins." Lets take the "average" WAR of FanGraphs and BaseballReference since they sometimes disagree.

Over the last 400+ games, here are the most valuable Nats.

1) Desmond...10.1 WAR 

2) JZimmermann...9.95.

3) Gio Gonzalez...9.25.

4) Strasburg...8.55.

5) Harper...8.50.

6) RZ'man...8.15.

7) Werth...7.4

8) LaRoche 6.9.

Conclusion: A lot of good to very good players/pitchers on the Nats but not a single GREAT one yet. And there is not a great deal to choose among any of these eight. Now, Rendon, Fister, Roark, Span and Ramos (if he could stay healthy) are also players in this WAR range over a 2 1/2-yr period.  Very nice players. Because the Nats have so many of them, that's why they are genuine pennant contenders.

But in their best years, Pujols, Trout, MCabrera have been 10 WAR players!

So, to answer the question: I'm glad to see Strasburg on the mound or Harper at the plate in important spot. But no more so than about 10 other Nats. They are part of a very balanced team -- (but one that wishes it had a superstar). If either Stras or Harp think that -- on actual performance -- they stand out from the other best Nat players, they are simply mistaken. I'd guess they both know where they stand.  

When does Dan Snyder realize he can make a lot of money by changing the name and moving the team back to the District?

Tough question. There have been a lot of things I thought he'd figure out years before he did. And some he still hasn't picked up on. So, maybe the answer on any Dan Issue is: Longer than you might think.

I can't think of any younger sibling who has come anywhere close to the success level of an older sibling in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB or MLS. So Jay Gruden might be the first but more than likely he will be gone fired by mid season.

Perhaps, in your haste to fire Jay, you have forgotten -- oh, what are their names...met in the Super Bowl --the Harbaughs.

Hey Boz, anything to take away from Rory snubbing a fan seeking an autograph? Perhaps he wasn't allowed to sign autographs at that point, but do people have a point in being outraged? Thanks.

I'll duck that, but use it as an opportunity to point out that, according to ESPN radio on the course at the Open, McIlroy was followed by a "heckler ." After his (great) tee shot at the 16th, Rory pointed out the guy to cops (ESPN got it) and he was escorted off by four large cops. The heckler looked big enough that it might take four cops. How many holes did the heckler follow him? What did he say or do? ESPN Radio seemed to imply that it was an all-day or much-of-the-round thing. But they were vague. Anyway, in golf, where silence is golden and a camera shutter can sound like a gun shot during your backswing, a heckler can be a big deal. And you gotta throw the bums out -- fast.  

It's now been over six years without a major victory. At his best Tiger was the best ever, IMO. He no longer can out length his opposition and McIlroy, when he's on, is now the superior golfer. For me the over/under on the number of future majors Tiger has in him to win is 1. Look at the history of the great players, they slow down after 35 and certainly after 40. Tiger will turn 39 this year and probably has the joints of a 59 year old. Sorry for the diatribe, but what are the chances that our two biggest name golfers: Tiger and Phil won't be Ryder Cupping this year?

That's not a diatribe. It's reasonable. I guess I'd put the over/under on Tiger at 1.5.

Tom Watson, 64, shot 68 on Sunday for a 289 and finished ahead of four of the top seven players in the world rankings in the British Opeen. Bubba, Kuchar, Day and Woods (by 5 shots).

Watson is U.S. Ryder Cup captain. He seeemed to make it clear that Tiger would have to earn his way into the year-end FedEx Cup -- and be playing pretty well -- to be a captain's choice. Woods is playing in two more events before the FedEx -- one of them the PGA Championship. Roughly, he'd have to finish in the Top Five in BOTH to qualify for FedEx Cup.

So, to me, considering what a mess Tiger's game is right now -- no, he is NOT close, or anywhere near close -- I'd say he has almost no chance to play his way (earn) onto Watson's team by Tom's own definition of what he wants. But it'll be a tough call to leave him off if he finishes -- say -- in the Top 10 at the PGA.

Watson WANTS them to m ake the team. But he also wants them to earn it. And Tom wants to win the Cup back more than any other factord. Soooo...if I were Watson, I'd probably leave both Tiger and Phil off the Ryder team unless  one or both show a LOT of improvement. Neither has been a remarkable Ryder Cup player. (Phil's 11-17-6). Unless one or both "find their game" awful darn soon, we probably have a better chance of winning without them. 

Tom, I am a huge Bryce Harper fan — I'm in love with his potential and hope he has a magnificient career. But my armchair analysis suggests that he's trying to kill the ball on every swing, concentrating more on clubbing 600 ft. homers than simply making good contact. To my way of thinking, he's strong enough to cut down on his swing, focus on meeting the ball, and still rack up plenty of extra base hits. What do you think? Is anyone else seeing it this way?

Everyone sees that he probably swings too hard when he's hitting poorly and seems smoother (trying less) when he's hitting well. But this is almost universal in many sports. Beyond a certain point, the best way to do WORSE is to try harder. "Try easy" isn't easy at all.

Oh, I mentioned a Dave Stockton instruction book a couple of weeks ago. He's one of the people who works with Rory. After the Open, McIlroy said he only had two "thoughts" all week: "process" and "spot." (Spot as in target.) That certainly sounds like Dave Stockton. 

Kudos to Rory McIlroy for a splendid Open championship. That said, it wasn't much of a contest on a sub-standard Open course. Shouldn't Royal Liverpool be dropped from the Open rotation? Until it returned to Hoylake in 2006, the Open hadn't been held there since 1967. The top five finishers in 2006: Tiger Woods -18, Chris DeMarco -16, Ernie Els -13, Jim Furyk -12, Sergio Garcia -11. This year it was Rory McIlroy -17, Sergio Garcia -15, Rickie Fowler -15, Jim Furyk -13, Adam Scott -12 and March Leishman -12. The Open isn't supposed to be the Greenbriar Classic or the John Deere Classic! Royal Liverpool seemed incredibly easy - and played that way. Not very tough greens, mostly easy rough. Ugh! Get rid of it.

When the sun shines, the wind doesn't blow and a couple of rain storms arrive in the night to soften the greens, a lot of British Opeen venues play about as tough as East Potomac Park. (Except that East Potomac Park is prettier with all the monuments in view than some of the dreary Open links.) As the Scots say, "If there's no wind, there's no golf." But I guess they say "ney" or "neh" for "no." 

I always figured it had to be Vlad Guerrero, but recently I read a bio of Yogi Berra that said that during his rookie season, he hit a double on a pitchout, which has to rank high on the bad ball hitting totem. BTW, who do you think is the current best bad ball hitter?

I saw Yogi (amazing on high pitches), Guerrero, Clemente and Manny Sanguillen. No pitch was safe.

Back when Dan Uggla could hit, he could club one out of the park that was hat-high.

I don't know how much Sunday's game says about the Nationals this year, but for me it is another reminder of why I like going to baseball games. On any given day, anything can happen (and a lot did happen, for those who were paying attention). That being said, how 'bout those crowds this past weekend? Can you imagine what they would have been if D.C. were a baseball town?

Ha! Big crowds and baseball-knowledgeable, too. They cheered in sympathy with Mil's Jean Segura but chanted "Biogenesis" at Ryan Braun. Not bad.

That's it for day. I'm taking my summer vacation -- starting second! Be back in August. Will post/tweet the next Chat date when I know. Thanks to everyone for the questions and enthusiasm. And we'll talk soon.

Mr. Boswell, What's your take on the Braves? At first glance, they seem like an uneven team -- streaky offense; some holes in the lineup; relying on a journeyman starter (Harang), a close to rookie starter (Wood), and a slumping starter (Wood); and a bullpen that has not been quite the "lights out, say good night" version of last year. YET, they are really hanging tough with not only the Nats, but the rest of the NL. Is there some mysterious in the water in Atlanta that will sustain them or will they wilt in the August heat? (BTW, great columns this weekend). Thanks.

Pretty sure since the beginning of '12, Oakland and Atlanta are No. 1 and 2 in MLB in best total record. The Braves are good and they are deep. (Nats have fifth best record in MLB since start of '12).

I had a mom, dad and their two younger teenage kids from Atlanta sitting behind me Saturday night. We had a nice conversation and they really loved Nats Park. However, they said they thought the crowds were really quiet (understand too this was the night we drove Garza out with five runs in the first). Now granted they come from a park where the Tomahawk Chop is blared at 120 decibels half the game, but do you think Nat's crowds are a little overly passive and not spontaneous enough compared to other team's stadiums?

Nats crowds are like Washington -- smart. But a lot of smart people live in their heads. I think Nats fan Ben Bernanke, now that he's no longer Fed chief, should consider standing on the dugout to lead cheers if they make the playoffs. It would set a good (loud) example. (You know, like Wild Bill Hagy, but with "Saved the World Financial System" on his resume.)  


Fun category! The Murray brothers (Brian and Terry) both did pretty well in the NHL coaching world. Mike Maddux seems to be a successful pitching coach, even though Greg was the superstar pitcher. Joe DiMaggio was the middle of the three ballplaying brothers. Not sure birth order matters.


But he/she is correct that it's harder to find coaching siblings than great player siblings.

There are also Stan and Jeff Van Gundy. Both lost in the NBA Finals. They weren't great coaches, but they had some success in the league.


Is he eligible for Rookie of the Year honours? If so, what are his prospects? Love the way he pitches.


I really enjoy watching him pitch. Compare his season, across the board, to All-Star Z'mann. Roark is slightly better. 

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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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