Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 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

If you could sign only one of each, would you rather have Zimmermann or Strasburg? Rendon or Harper?

That's one of the best questions I've ever gotten here because they are such close distinctions.

Strasburg and Rendon. But tomorrow it might be the other way. Strasburg is three years younger. Years 25-28, which Z'mann has already had, are often very big years for pitchers. Both have had TJ surgery so either could get hurt again. But I think Stras has a lot more room to rise and will bet a workhorse. Advanced metrics, of course, predict that he will soon be as good or better than Z'mann.  Z'mann is at his peak right now. But, man, what a peak.

Rendon has been healthy the last two years. But Harper played 162 games at all levels in '12. He's gotten hurt two years in a row, but nothing says he has to keep getting hurt. Rendon has a position at which he's already a defensive standout. Harper doesn't yet. But Harper just turned 22. What will he be at 24? Rendon's upside is exceptional. Harper's is still a likely super-slugger. 

I plan to change my mind by the end of the chat. Love to hear you folks opinions.

Here's the main point: The Nats don't HAVE to make this either-or choice.

I am mystified why fans fail to understand that Skins lack depth because of the cap penalty and the earlier Haynesworth and other boondoggles. You can't recover in a single year. It's just like our society, where wealth is an incredible advantage and no one wants to recognize it. A roster doesn't recover in a season or two when it inherits a lack of depth, just like a society doesn't equalize in a generation to equalize wealth.

Yes, the team's lack of depth is a huge problem. Everybody recognizes the price in draft picks that's been put into RGIII. But there are other factors, as you mention.

Here's one that is seldom talked about -- huge roster churn every time there is a new coach. A few years ago I went back to see how many players on the roster and in starting positions changed within two years of the arrival of a new coach. Even Marty Schoettenheimer had big turn over in one year because he valued LBs and TEs, which wasn't a priority to Norv. Then Spurrier arrived and had little use for some of the solid players Marty brought in.

When an owner who doesn't have a football background changes coaches, he usually goes for a different "flavor." As in: Get me the opposite coach from this last bum that I now hate. So you get Coaching Style Whiplash. As an example, the team now has lost its running game in part because Shanahan brought in blockers who fit his stretch running ideas. Just watch the continued roster churn in Gruden's second year.

The whole mess is a perfect illustration of how to minimize the total talent on an entire roster -- and insure that lack of continuity in philosophy will do the most damage.

Does 11-5 get the Redskins into the playoffs? Or with Jacksonville starting to win, is it more likely to get the first pick in the draft by going 2-14?


Is that on the back of Colt McCoy's 40 touchdown passes in the last 10 games?

The win over Tenn on Sunday should help keep the team motivated through this stretch with a toss-up game with the Vikings and what should be a win over Tampa Bay. Rams, who looked like a game to circle just had an upset of Seattle -- but how good is Seattle after its last three performances.

Seems to me the team will end up with five or six wins. The whole NFL is set up to contribute to upsets. Don't be too sure all those games are automatic loses.

But losing Orakpo, even if he was having a bad year, is one more lost starting player. He's gone from franchise player to How Much Career Does He Have Left if he keeps having similar serious injuries -- three of them now -- to his pecs on both sides of his body.

What are the odds the Nats' Opening Day starter at 2B is not currently under contract to the team? Probably more than likely he's not, right?

For a team that looks "set" at almost every position, the Nats have a ton of room to make moves if they feel like they don't have quite the right mix yet.

Do you get aggressive to try to sign Desmond because the JJ Hardy contract, even though he's two years older, may bring back some sanity after the Elvis Andrus deal paid him $15M through age 33 when he'd barely proved himself.  So, it looks like Ian's range might now be $14-$15M /yr th33 or 34. (He jujst turned 29).

Do you try to lock up Z'mann or Fister to an extension this winter or let it play out into next year, waqiting to see how Giolit, AJ Cole and others develop and risk losing them both after '15?

Do you try for an aggressive upgrade at second or try to sign Astrubal Cabrera? Do you use your depth, like Roark, Storen, Espinosa to make a trade for a second baseman?

Do you view Storen as a 1.12 ERA reliever who had three poor or unlucky pitches in Game 2 or do you see him as at the peak of his value to deal? 

Lets at least let the World Series get finished before we obsess about all this. I'll be interested to hear some of the industry scuttlebutt about what the Nats (and O's) might or should do over the winter during the next week or so of Series chatter.

BTW, the importance of Game 1.

Hi Tom: You are the best. Did you get a chance to see the PI call against ND in the final seconds of the ND v. FSU game? I am biased, an ND fan, but trying to get to ground truth. Some say: no penalty, FSU blew coverage. Others say: clear penalty. Others: judgment call, but be consistent. Any thoughts? Paul in DC

Suppose over a two year window you only had enough budget to sign two among these four players: Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Astrubal Cabrera. You also couldn't afford both of the two most expensive (Desi and Zmann). So who would you sign?

Perhaps that's a false premise. Looks like the MASN argument will play out in time for the Nats to have a good sense of how much revenue they gain per year (and how much they are owed from the past) and thus be able to decide what they can afford to pay. The Lerners are very loath to spend money that is not in hand -- it's just not how they've ever done business. For years some have told them: You WILL get your money; so just operate on that assumption. My guess is at least a bump to the Nats of $20M-a-year and probably more like $25M from their current level. Obviously, nobody knows -- it's still in the Legal Brawl stage. But that would put them in the ballpark with some RSN contracts done just a couple of years ago, including both in Texas (I haven't double checked that in a while). It's probably good that the Nats ridiculous $109M-yr gambit has gotten mocked (in MLB's own ruling). But my WAG is that they end up at about half of that figure with ~5% annual bumps. That can improve your ability to keep more of the stars you develop.   

Safety Ryan Clark suggested after the blowout loss to the Giants that this team "couldn't have beaten William and Mary" that day. Mr. Boswell, in your professional opinion, who would win, the Tribe, or the Redskins?

William and Mary has lost its last couple of games. Maybe Ryan Clark didn't whiff that one as badly as he has some tackles lately.

3-way QB controversy! How delicious!

They better hope Griffin develops into one of the 10 best QBs in the league by the beginning of '16 or they are going to be one lost-in-the-wilderness team for a long time. 

I've been sorry to see Cousins look so whipped in his bad moments lately. I could imagine a lot of scenarios but I didn't guess that one. Early career disasters are the RULE for QBs. That's another problem at The Park. When you always want results NOW, you put too much pressure on young key players too soon and they never reach their full potential.

We now have enough data to take a preliminary look at who these three QBs really are.

Cousins is aggressive, tries to make big plays, succeeds sometimes, but hates to take sacks and throws an astronomical number of interceptions compared to anybody in recent times (except Rex Grossman). His career QB rating in 407 pass attempts is 77.5 and it's 86.4 this year, which isn't awful. Shows how fast we rip 'em up and throw 'em away around here. His career TD-INT ratio is unacceptable at 18-19  and he's lost a few fumbles, including two this year. His adjusted net yards per attempt -- a good overall stat -- is 5.69. Career record as a starter 2-7 (he got a "win" in pro-foot-ball-reference stats for last week!??? Is that correct? I thought that he didn't.)

McCoy is a very conservative short passer who tries to avoid mistakes, takes a lot of sacks but, all in all, is of roughly equivalent value to Cousins. He's thrown far more NFL passes than Cousins, but has similar TD-INT 22-20. What this tells you is that he's a Game Manager who would rather throw the ball away, take a sack or check down to an easier throw so that he doesn't get his team beaten. Career record as a starter 6-15.

RGIII's career quarterback rating is 91.8 and his TD-INT ratio is a very good 36-17. He very seldom throws interceptions -- in fact, it is his defining characteristic so far -- in good years and bad. He protects the football. Last season when he was supposedly so awful he had an 82-2 rating and a 16-12 ratio. Griffin's adjusted-net-yards-per-catch for his careeer is 6.39 -- much better than Cousins at 5.69 or McCoy at a lowly 4.81. 

Wish McCoy luck. But the only relevant QB in DC is RGIII. He did not look good in our brief glimpses earlier this year.

I assume Griffin will ultimately work out well or very well -- though probably never worth the draft picks. He better. Otherwise, in 3-4-5 years Washington will be a MLB-NBA-NHL town -- anything but an NFL town. You can only screw up so many major decisions -- in coaching hires, QB picks, choices of where to pick your public battles -- before sane people refuse to pay as much attention to you as they once did. We're not "there" yet, but you can see "there" from here.

How 'Bout that Rams Fake punt (against the typically spectacular Seahawks special teams, no less)???

I cheered! (I wasn't in a press box at the time.)

The confidence and quality of the punter's pass is what's most impressive. Ziiiippp!

All those years when Sammy Baugh was also a punter as well as QB, I wonder how often he used fake-punt passes! It'd be like having Tom Brady as your regular punter; and, to really be equivalent to Baugh, he'd also have to be the best punter in the NFL. (I think) Baugh also played defensive back in the 60-minute days. I wonder if he could cover anybody?

Mr Boz Great to see that Major League baseball is back after the mid October hiatus. Are we to believe that MLB couldn't move up the WS games once the two teams have clinched? I know, I know, television rules, but isn't there a better way to do this?

A lot of people travel a long way and pay a lot of hotel-plane money to attend post-season games, so "just in time" scheduling would face enormous headwinds.

I'm very sorry not to have answered a World Series question yet. Your questions/remarks almost all went in different directions -- which may not bode too well for TV ratings.

WATCH GAME 1!!! It's probably the key to the Series.

Of course, Game 1 always changes the odds in any series in any sport. But not like it does in baseball in the World Series. Since '80, the impact has been astronomical. 

Nine of the last 10 Game One winners, and 14 of the last 16, went on to win the Series.

But it's more dramatic than that. In '86, MLB allowed the DH in the World Series. That means that the team with homefield advantage gets to play the hugely emotional Games 6 and 7 on its own FIELD with its own CROWD and its own RULES.

It has been an almost insurmountable edge since 1980. In that time, 22 of the 26 teams that were able to "bring the Series back home" for a Game 6 ended up winning the Series. The home team's winning percentage in Games 6 and 7 since 1980 is .852!!! And the run differential in those 27 games is almost 2.5 runs a game. That's an insane amount -- more than you'd expect if a 100-win team played a 100-loss team 27 times.

IOW, you win fast on the road and close out the Series back home in four or five games or you are close to doomed.

This seems like small data sample size distortion. In part that's true. But if you are at those games, you can feel it. Incredible heroics happen to the home teams or they get ump breaks or the visitor implodes. I've attended every Series game since '75 -- this'll be my 40th. The advanage of playing Games 6 and 7 at home is probably not as insanely large as that .852 win percentage -- but it is as big as any X Factor in any sport.

That's why the Giants need a victory in Bumgarner's Game 1 start -- it's almost an elimination game. I know that sounds ridiculous. I really don't think it is. He's better than (Big Game) James Shields, who's a little overrated in my book. And if Bumgarner wins Game 1, then he lines up to close it our back in SF in Game 5. And THAT is how almost every "home-disadvantage" team has won its titles since '80 -- and often in sweeps.

BUT if the Royals win Game 1, despite Bumgarner (and the five off days of rust on KC bats), I think the Giants are as close to "toast" as you can be in a sport where they insist that you still have to "play the games."

I'd PREFER some different and less predictable outcome. But I've experienced these loooong baseball trends before. The NL won something like 17 of 18 All-Star games. I covered almost all of them. You just KNEW the NL would win and so did both teams. Whitey Herzog, I'm convinced -- based on nothing substantial just my amused gut reaction -- tried his best to lose the AS game that Atlee Hammaker started. For the good of the game.  The NL did lose and afterward I thought Whitey looked tickled.

I hope this Series breaks the pattern -- for the good of the game -- because, after many years, people are finally picking up on it as a "problem" for baseball.

At any rate, if the Royals can even get a spot here at home I think they'll win the Series. The Giants need to come in and break the Royals 8-0 post-season winning streak and stun them with back-to-back loses, just as they knocked the Nats flat with two loses in Washington. The Nats were riding a long winning streak of almost perfect pitching, topped by J Z'mann's last-day no-hitter. Then the Giants smacked 'em in the face in Game 1. The we're-so-hot spell was broken. SF just took control of the Series. 

KC has covered the Royals with kisses from caps to spikes. I hope they are ready to play tonight. Common sense tells me the Royals can win at least one of the first two games and that will give them enough margin of error to get back to KC and close it out.

But the Giants were great enemies of such common sense in '10 and '12.

I say again: Watch Game 1. Don't "ease into" this Series.

BTW, here is a link to James Wagner's latest on the MASN dispute.

That's it for today's chat. See you all next week.

Who do you pick to win tonight? And the series, in how many games?

Royals in six.

22 of the last 26 teams with homefield advantage won the World Series. This is a problem for baseball. It's also a problem for the Giants.

Last year was the perfect old-school WS: The Red Sox and Cards each led their respective league's in wins and would up in the World Series, just as if it were still 1956.

Now, the team with the 7th best record and a team in a 3-way tie for the 8th best regular record meet in the Series. Polar opposite Series one year apart.

The Beast is going to the World Series, and he's getting a lot of love from Washington fans, who have not forgotten him even after two years. Do you think he's the most missed of all the former Nationals? Should we have kept the man who hit the home run that tied Game 5? We could have used his bat against the Giants! Another ex-National will be in the WS: the Royals' Josh Willingham. I have seen no one (except me) mention him, however! I wonder why.

I'm looking forward to saying "Hi" to both. I'd missed that Willingham made the roster. Great guys. Morse just loves playing in SF. They're complete opposite personalities. They both fit the cities they are in right now, that's for sure. Willingham may be retiring after this year. Be nice to see him get a PH chance in a big spot.

Tom - love your work. Had a two part question about Game 4. (1) Why didn't Williams use Strasburg to finish the game after Gio was done? I have heard him give non answers like 'because he was the last resort option,' which still begs the question of 'why was he only the last resort option?'  Do you think Stras indicated he wasn't comfortable on three-days rest, or was it solely Williams' call? (2) Why isn't Williams taking more heat about this decision? Everyone talks about Barrett, which had obvious issues, but this was the bigger one, in my mind.

Plenty have mentioned no Stras in Game 6 with Z'mann available on full rest in Game 5. Matt's gotten his full share -- and  MORE -- of second guessing.

Maybe this will help him feel better. The Sporting News just named his Manager of the Year.


Boz, Great column, but one nit to pick. "Both these teams are very good, and have been playing great. But both made 100 or more errors." This really underrates Kansas City's defense. Perez behind the plate, Gordon at first and Moustakas at third (who was down in AAA some of the year) are elite - Escobar and Infante are good-not-great, and boot balls they get to (but have range). But the outfield is one of the best ever - something that will be magnified by SF's flyball tendencies (Ben Lindbergh at Grantland has a good rundown - The Giants are no slouches in the field, either - except for when the out-of-position Ishikawa is in left field. But the Royals are glove masters, and especially in the outfield, it could make a difference for them this series.

Good point. Thanks for the link. Dyson's defensive value in CF gives him a big WAR value for a player who doesn't play all the time.

KC was actually upset about too many careless errors early in the season, despite the fact that Gordan, Cain and Perez are super defenders and Escobar good. Moustakas actually gets some slightly negative marks from some of the defensive metrics.

Why can't Danny Espinosa just hit from the right side? Hitting from the left doesn't seem to be working for him.

Few can make the switch. But remember the hero of last year's ALCS? Shane Victorino, career switch-hitter, hitting a grand slam homer right-handed off a right-handed pitcher.

"The whole mess is a perfect illustration of how to minimize the total talent on an entire roster -- and insure that lack of continuity in philosophy will do the most damage."

Thanks. Maybe I'll save that for a future column on Sequential Roster Demolition.

I'm a disappointed Nats fan who's having a hard time caring about the World Series. Help me care. What's going to make it interesting?

This could be a close crazy Series and maybe you can get into the Royals angle. But every time you see "Giants" stuff, try not to think "Nats."

As a defensive back, he was the first player in league history to intercept four passes in a game, and is the only player to lead the league in passing, punting, and interceptions in the same season (from Wikipedia). Sammy was the greatest player Washington ever had.


And they didn't even have to give up three I's and a two to get him.

It seems like a number of post season games turn on a play where the ball is hit back to the pitcher and then he throws it away. What can be done to prevent the E-1 in the postseason, either by the starter or a reliever? Having the pitcher get out of the way so one of the infielders can make the play isn't always an option.

Good point. Tiger pitchers lost the '06 Series all by themselves with their fielding. Detroit ended up with eight errors. Well, both teams have sure had enough time to run some spring training drills for their pitchers.

Is it plausible that the Nats next three years will be better than their last three?

Plausible that they win 280 games? Or close to it? Yes.

Plausible that they do better in October? They can't do worse. And we see now how far 88 or 89 wins can sometimes take you.

Boz, I agree entirely that the Nats don't have to make this choice, but I think it's revealing where their draft and trade choices have left them in the farm system. They do *not* have a surplus of position players - this says to me that when push comes to shove, they will sign position players long-term (as they have with Zim and Werth [FA, but still]), and I bet will with Desi. And eventually with Rendon and probably Harper. But with pitchers - as you point out, they're already getting Zimmermann's peak. They got Gio's peak for a bargain. And they're getting Roark's peak for a super-super bargain. After them - they have a LOT of big arms on the way, from already-ready-anywhere-else (Treinen), to almost-ready (Jordan, Hill), to probably-in-the-rotation-sometime-in-2016 (Cole, Giolito) - and more. You can't bet on all of them, of course - but you don't need them all. I think they are very focused on getting peak value out of pitchers and will, mostly, let them go after that. Stras is different, and I think likes it in DC, as well - if healthy, you lock him up because there aren't many like him. But otherwise, I think it's a shifting cast - as it really always is for pitchers. Even the Braves of the '90s had constant shifts.

If this is organizational theory, then it is a wise one -- as long as you really are good at identifying and developing pitchers. It is MUCH easier to project what you will get from an everyday player from 30-to-34 than it is a pitcher at the same age.  So it is a far safer investment. Look at all the injuries Z'man has had, yet everyone assumes he can still be a 25-90.-285 hitter (at least) the next five years. A 30-yr-old pitcher on a Z'man-like contract -- with a similar amount of time lost to pitching-related injuries -- would scare you to death.

Outta here. Honest.

Hi Tom – you said earlier that “we’re not there yet” in terms of DC becoming a non-NFL town. But I think it’s definitely happening. I’m amazed by how many hard-core Redskins fans (myself included) who have become… indifferent. And I don’t think it’s because the ‘Skins are a losing franchise. I’ve rooted for plenty of losers in this town. I think Snyder is a huge factor – not just his mismanagement of the franchise, but the arrogant tree-chopping, sue-the-City-Paper personality – and I know people who have been turned off by the NFL’s response to brain damage, Ray Rice, etc. I live in Fairfax, and I when I’m walking, say, at our local farmer’s market, I see way more folks wearing Nats gear than Skins gear. Obviously this is all anecotal, but it seems like a shift is underway, at least in NoVA.

Interesting. I always feel like I get back a ton of info from the chatters questions.

I just read that Matt Williams and Mike Scioscia were named managers of the year. Any thoughts ?

Matt had a fine season, all in all, and certain deserves the honor. Remember all those injuries for the first ~100 games. But he didn't have as good a year as Buck.

However, Mike had a totally destroyed pitching rotation down the stretch __the Angels had several "bullpen games"__ and still won more games than any team. So, it's all good. 

What do you think about switching Harper and Werth? I think Harper has the stronger arm at this point and could also get to more balls to hold other teams to getting to second following a hit with a runner on first base. Agree?

I think that day will come and both expect it. Next year? Well, Werth's losing a hair each year and Harper gets a little better, but Werth is still the better RFer. Maybe Harper's two fine catches in Game Three in SF were a sign of the future. Or maybe, like Rickey Henderson, Yaz, Joe Rudi, Barry Bonds and others, he will simply focus on becoming an exceptional LFer. But you'd think that arm ends up in RF.

Hi Tom, what do you make of the changes Major League Baseball is testing in the Arizona Fall League? They're trying to speed up the game with a pitch clock, time limit between half-innings, no-pitch intentional walks, limits on the number of mound conferences, and a requirement that batters keep one foot in the batter's box. Do you think we'll see any of these in the spring?

Lets hope that they are ALL on the way.

The NFL is really dragging, worse every year. This is one time that MLB should NOT look at the NFL. 

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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