Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 30, 2015

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

Can you give some examples of big time pitchers having a second Tommy John after eight years? Is the sample size big enough?

The sample size is ALL pitchers who have had a second TJ surgery. It's awful. Around 20 percent back to full effectiveness.

Obviously the eight years is an average, an estimate. But MLB teams "model" everything now. For example, how do you project AAA stats to big-league production? What do a player's very good stats at an early age (like Harper) indicate about his future value?

So, when deciding how much money to offer a player who's had TJ surgery, you are going to model the probabilities. The Nats have made offers for extensions to many of their players. Every offer is a composite of factors. But it's clear tthey have a serious concern about giving a contract of 5-6-7 yrs that would include a pitcher's 7-8-9-10-11-12 year with a new elbow. There are enough problems with age/injury w/out adding concern about TJS2.

Who's in and who's out?

With Werth, Span and Rendon certain to miss Opening Day the whole world will make the bench.

But it should be fun to see Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Dan Uggla make the team, at least in the early days of the season. Uggla is one of those people who looks like an ogre on TV, then you hear that everybody in MLB thinks he's a great guy. It takes five seconds to see why everybody likes him. I can't explain it. He just looks right at you, very friendly, smart, but a fierce player. If he's 80 percent of the old Uggla he'd be a nice bench part. But he is a...well, I won't say 'butcher,' but not very good at 2d. I saw an E4 yesterday, didn't know the player, and said, "I've never seen a guy make more fundamental mistakes on a basic ground ball to his backhand." I assumed it was a rookie. It was Uggla. But he lookss like he has his batting eye back.

Matt Williams talks about Espinosa all the time and how versatile he is, so he and Lobaton are certainties, I'd think.

Nats aren't going announce who's out for the Opener until as late as possible. Who knows why? It's obvious. Rendon can't do anything like a hitting activity. What, he's going to play in seven days? Werth hasn't seen live pitching. It would be irresponsible -- begging another injury or an early-season slump -- if they DID have them on the Opening Day roster. The question is will they back-date them to the DL (including the last 10 days of spring training) so they only have to miss the first five days of the season. I assume that's what they'll do in all case.

Nats have been lucky that none of the injuries seem to be severe. Even Span back in May. Z'man looked like he might have jammed his shoulder making aa diving stop but he's back in the lineup today.

Also, the MRI on Janssen's shoulder appears to have come back with "just" normal spring soreness, not a major injury. "MRI" always scares everybody to death. He'll be out a while, so that gives Treinan, Barrett, Roark, Stammen a chance to work out whether any of them want to stake a claim to a bigger late-game role. Blake and Aaron have looked good. Stammen always looks like Mr. Dependable to me; his career Nat ERA is 2.85 in four years. Only Roark looks messed up. "Poor fastball command." Well, that's the cornerstone of his pitching, so hope it gets worked out.

Boz - Given Bryce Harper's very average offensive stats (career .272BA), why the continued hoopla? He ranks 1,139th on's ELO ranking (1,138 spots behind the Babe -:). Is the DC media, including the Post, complicit in elevating Harper's achievements beyond their true measure? Thanks, Joe

You're kidding, right?

Harper's career slash line is almost identical Reggie Jackson's whole career slash line. 

OPS+ is a hard measuring stick to fool. It combines OPS with other factors -- adjusted to league, era and home park. Harper's three years are 118-133-111 for a combined OPS+ of 121. Who is that like?

Career: Harold Baines, Carlos Beltran, Ron Cey, Carlos Gonzalez (CarGo), Tony Lazzzeri (HOF), Heinie Manusdh (HOF), Justin Morneau, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and -- the player Harper projects the most to be like -- Justin Upton who had 29-102-.270 last year.

If Harper has any of those careers, Nats followers should be pretty happy. BUT Harper's numbers have all come before he was 22 and in two of his seasons he had serious injuries.

What could go bad? If he keeps getting hurt, big problem. If he never gets better than he already is he's an outstanding player -- although one who hasn't driven in enough runs yet. RBI is the one area where he has to get better.

But the people who knock Harper -- as if there is any possibility that he will not be a very good  player as long as he is in one piece -- aren't paying any attention.

Oh, the HR he hit on Saturday against the Mets hasn't come down yet. And his homer Sunday was a shot, too. He has his flaws. He needs to get better. But he's already very good and LESS "hoopla" would be the baseball-ignorant position to take. 

We should get it straight: He is resented by many (and he is resented by many) because of the publicity he has gotten. And he attracts attention. But if his name were Joe Smith and we had to analyze what he has actually done and how good he might (reasonably) be, we'd say, "Gimme THAT guy, right now!" 

Do you know if, or when, Clint Robinson, Ian Stewart, Mike Carp, Tony Gwynn, Jr. and/or Uggla can opt out of their minor league contracts? Due to injuries, I'd expect a good number of them to come north, at least for a short while, but to the extent their spring numbers continue to hold and the regulars get healthy, is there any chance the Nationals will be able to keep any as depth?

I never thought I'd see the day I would be asked a pure baseball question about a Washington team that had to do with when virtually-unknown players can opt out of their minor league contracts!

D.C., you've come a long way, baby!!

Ans: I don't know. (In my beat writer days I would have.)


So, maybe this question is a Sophistication Index that says Washington is about ready to host an All-Star game.

Another reliable source has told me that D.C. will get the '18 All-Star game and it may be announced as early as Opening Day (when commissioner Rob Manfred comes to Nats Park).

It's reached the point where I'd be amazed if D.C. did NOT get the game, because the people who've told me (anonymously) should be in position to know. BUT one person really decides on All-Star game locations and their announcement dates -- it's a Commissioner Thing. If, for any reason on earth, he wants to change, it'll change. It's a "not over 'til it's over' thing. (But it's over.) The new commissioner has a lot of his plate. He'll get to 2018 announcements when it's time to get to them. But I'm "virtually certain" it will be a pleasant day when he does.

Last week you made a persuasive case against letting Pete Rose, suspended for life for gambling on games, back into baseball. Now we hear that MLB is about to sign a major contract with Draft Kings both to encourage gambling on baseball games as well as to make a significant profit off of this gambling. I have never much liked Pete Rose, but this seems like complete hypocrisy to me.

You might want to read Adam Kilgore's story on daily fantasy sports.

This will be my worst "get off my lawn" answer ever. So you might want to avoid reading it.

Gambling on sports is our national sleaze-fest.

(I know I'll regret writing that.)

I understand the impulse. I've had brief periods when I enjoyed going to race tracks or playing blackjack, etc. I'll lose a couple of bucks on the mega-millions. And, yes, I really enjoyed fantasy leagues with "pots" in the early '90's. I have to say that the season-long fantasy leagues really had excellent bang-for-the-buck because you're joking every day or trading players with friends who are serious sports fans.

But DAILY "leagues." Come on. No social dimension, no friends. It's one step up from a slot machine. You lose money. I HATE that part of it! Because you KNOW you are going to lose.

"The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."

But I can't talk. I think it's probably smart to invest in an S&P 500 index fund -- for many years -- in planning for retirement, etc. Somehow, making a lifelong "bet on America" sounds like a lot better idea than "taking Michigan State and 4.5 points."

Then, like the last Duke game, somebody gets a foul shot with 0.01 left to play -- and the game already decided -- and millions of dollars change hands. (Vegas apparently lost big on that one.)

See, I told you I was going to do that obnoxious "lawn" thing.

Tom, Given the strength of the ACC this year, how do think Maryland would have done if they had remained in the league?

Don't know. But I know they were one of only three teams in the country that had wins over TWO of the teams that are now in the Final Four. Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Pretty good! And now a 5-star 6-foot-11 recruit with one of my favorite new sports names: Diamond Stone.

All those draft picks for RG3 or Caps giving away future star Forsberg for rental goalie? RG3 seems worse given the number of picks but Forsberg looks like a special talent that GMGM gave away for cents on the dollar.

RGIII has a chance to be much worse because you gave away (potentially) FOUR top players. All of those three No. 1 picks should become starters, at least, with one or two stars. 

Got to give Caps fans credit. As I remember it, there was considerable grousing at the time GMGM made that trade. Right?

Mr B. IF Kentucky wins this year's tourney, will the University hang the banner or just send it directly to Coach Cal's basement to join the other two he "won" ?

Thanks for that.

I really thought Notre Dame had 'em. It felt somewhat like ND breaking UCLA's 88-0 streak in '74 and in a game with a similar pace and score 71-70 with ND scoring the last 12 points!

I hope Morgan Wootten was watching that Ky-ND game. He coached Adrian Dantley, who was a ND key in the '74 game, and also coached current Irish coach Mike Brey ('77 grad). The final shot of the Ky-ND from the corner -- for the win --was put up by -- that's right, a DeMatha grad.

Footnote on the '74 game: Bill Walton went 12-for-14 from the floor and Notre Dame still beat 'em.

What the heck is going on with the Wizards? They're playing as if they've never been on the same court together. Or like they actively hate each other.

It's a total disaster.

For the whole season, their SRS (Simple Rating System) is now barely even positive -- 16th in the NBA. So, they're an average team for the whole. BUT after their fast start they are a really BAD team now for months.

They are not in a slump. It's a lot worse than that. And the quote from the Golden State game -- paraphrase: we knew if we put some pressure on them they'll start arguing with each other and quit -- is about the worst comment you'll ever hear publicly about a team.

Gortat, long-term contract, doesn't look happy. Think Kevin Durant wants to play for this team -- if he's still KD when he comes back from his foot surgery?

Sometimes it's hard to believe how fast a season can reverse. It's hard to demonstrate exactly how/why Paul Pierce and Bradley Beal don't seem to bring out the best in each other. They are both getting enough touches and shots. But it just doesn't click.

Is "fire the coach" the easy answer, the correct answer, the only available answer or all three? Well, it's the easy answer.

How much of Spring Training is legitimate getting ready for regular season and how much is local tourism dollar generation?

I can't believe it's the money. Relative to the size of the whole sport it doesn't seem significant enough for all the time and aggravation.

You're right that it seems too long. But remember that in MLB a big league team is just the most visible part of an entire organization -- a kind of Five Level Baseball College -- where you draft or sign players, then teach them for years and years before they get to the majors. Spring training is the one (long) time when the whole organization is together and gets a sense of itself, studies itself  -- figures out its Way of doing things. Vets, like Werth, go over to the fields where younger players are having games or workouts just out of curiosity or to get to know them. "There are some big arms over there," he said yesterday.

This might be a decent column: What on earth is the DEAL with a seven week spring training?  

Tom, after watching Saturday's first period debacle vs. the Predators, I wasn't even sure the Caps would qualify for the playoffs. Now, after seeing them dominate the Rangers for two periods on the road and win 5-2, I wonder if they could put up a good fight against any of Eastern Conference foes. Thoughts?

From afar, not able to see the last few games, I thought the Predators  loss was a very bad sign, especially with the Rangers the next day -- a tough team for anybody and especially for the Caps after a couple of two-goal loses to them. Then they win 5-2! Wish I'd seen it.

Just want to see them get a little mo -- like that win and Ovie getting a goal -- get in the playoffs and see if, for once, they can play their best in the spring rather than their worst. But they have been SO inconsistent this year that you just cross your fingers. (Or that's my response.)

The takeaway from your column is that the rest of the team is fine with Harper's personality. Of course, all that media attention focused on him means less for them. I'm guessing that works out for a group of players who would be just fine with the media leaving them alone.

That's mostly true. They like him, know how much they need him and back him. But they'd also like him to have more than 32 RBI this year.

Do you have any other material from Steve McCatty that you're sitting on? I remember hearing him tell a story a few years ago, involving a visit to the mound back when he played for Billy Martin, that was one of the funnier baseball stories that I've heard.

The other day we were talking about Thurmon Munson. Cat said, "I gave up his last home run." And then there was a story about the first time they met. Munson, who was called Capt Bad Body, got on 1st base and was yelling, "Hey, Fat Boy" at McCatty. "I couldn't believe it. I thought it was my first baseman trying to get my attention. I stepped off the mound and yelled at Thurmon, 'How can YOU call ANYBODY Fat Boy?" And so they were friends. 

Say you're a sports reporter. Last year you break some big stories, get comfortable with the teams you're covering, and feel like your writing took a big leap. Then the paper brings in Roger Angell, tells everyone it will make the paper better, he has the awards, he's a proven commodity. You're still valued, but we'd like you to go back to covering high school sports. Next year, when some of our other columnists move on, we'll talk about putting you back on the pro sports beat. We know you understand. --Tom in Alexandria

Yes, it's brutal to be Tanner Roark this spring. But you would NEVER know it by talking to him or watching him. They should retire the Best Attitude Award and just give it to him in perpetuity.

The NFL football team has the worst owner if posrts ever on the planet. The Nats have the talent but dont have the manager to get to the World Series ever. The Bullets and Wizards are saddled with owner who cant but a coach and team out there that plays hard everyday and can win the tough games. The soccer team is mediocre at best. Maybe one day the DC area will have competent owners for its sports teams but right now with Teddy, the Lerners and Danny Boy it doesn't look like it will happen in my life time. Yeah I am calling the Lerners and Teddy out and saying they are incompetent.

But the FANS are great __like YOU, right?

They've finished building your bridge. You can go under it now.

So El Salvador played Argentina at Fed-Ex Field...a great chance to see the home team against the World Cup runner-up, and see the great Messi. But then some dope at Fedex played the wrong anthem for El Salvador. And Messi didn't play in the game. And El Salvador still lost 2-0. I feel bad for the thousands of Salvadoran faithful from the D.C. area that spent money for that debacle.

Details, I want Details. A tweet came into my cell phone. Who will be back up to Lobaton?

All I saw was that they got "cash" in return.

That's better than putting him on waivers and getting nothing. He'll make somebody a decent back-up catcher. Good % throwing out runners.

What does Tom Izzo do? At this point I don't thin k you can just say he's lucky (if you ever could). So they lost 2x to Terps, and then beat them in a close game. There must be something the guy does to store up intensity for the tournament. tth

I've never seen a coach whose teams -- year after year --improve dramatically as the season goes along.

I watched them lose to Maryland in OT at home. Then I see them in the tournament. They don't just look like a different team, they look like different players. It's like, over the season, they've done a Vulcan Mind Meld with Izzo -- it's like every step they take, every cut, their instinct for spacing the floor --  is an extension of a coach's thinking in real time.

It's spooky.

But it's cool.

(And watching Pitino lose...especially after he gets The Bounce of The Tournament on the Mathiang free throw to save the game and get OT...priceless. When Mangok's FT bounced six feet straight up and went in, I thought we finally had a definitive -- but unpleasant -- answer to several basic theological questions.)

Boz, I think this is a very illuminating comment - "very average offensive stats (career .272BA)." Last year, the league-average BA was .251 - meaning that Harper's career line was 20-plus points better, as was his .273 last year. In 1999-2000, the peak of the steroid era, league-average BA was .271 and .270, and it's been going down since. As you said, OPS+ is best for comparing across eras, but I think there's a lag with the counting stats, and lots of people don't realize that what was average 15 years ago is not 20%+ better-than-average. This also works in the other direction, for pitching.

Good point.

Werth summed up the problem (for hitters) yesterday. "You used to see 95 once in a while. Now EVERY DAY it's somebody throwing 100.")

My guess is that pitchers have learned to develop far more "core strength" than they once did -- and legally.

I think the Babe would have a little trouble getting around with that 50 oz bat -- the one everybody sees when they go to Cooperstown and say, "He swung THAT!!??" But he hit Walter Johnson okay and the Big Train must have been 100 or close.)

Bos, is Uggla really so delusional as to view himself as a starter after his last few seasons? What is going to become of him? IF he does make the final roster, would he be content to be a pinch-hitter/part-timer?

Sure, he's a good guy, team player and knows the deal. He's 35. He can read his stat line the last couple of years. He had kind of a basic problem -- he couldn't see. (Or not very well.) He appears to have solved much or all of that problem. (I should know the details but I don't.) If you watch him judge pitches it is obvious that he is "seeing the ball well" and even has more walks than K's this spring. 

Even with the possibility of TJ2, if Strasburg has a great season and contributes to a winning one for the Nats, isn't it worth taking a chance on him rather than relying on unproven prospects.

Never say never on contracts. A team's needs can change and suddenly their offer goes way up. Or the player can call his agent and say, "I really want to stay here in Town X. Negotiate aggressively but get it DONE." You can even say that to Boras. Jered Weaver signed an extension.

But there certainly doesn't seem to be any movement -- or even the movements that lead to movement -- right now. And the last several weeks would have been a good time if anybody wanted to get the ball rolling. Apparently, nothing.

But you are right about "unproven pitchers." What makes the Nats different (potentially) is that they have so many of 'em in the pipeline.

Boz, Great column on the eight-year TJ question. I'd offer two more things - 1) Stras hasn't been extended because he's a Boras client. The eight-year window *might* mean the Nats won't resign him - but you can bet that Boras will have a great "package" for Ted Lerner showing how Stras is/will be different. My money is still on Stras re-signing with the Nats, but it's possible that a combination of the eight-year window, Stras' relative youth (he'll be 28 when a FA), and Boras' methods will lead to a Greinke-like contract: front-loaded with an opt-out after 3-4 years. 2) I think it's also the case that this shows Rizzo's team-building philosophy, generally, of overlapping windows and multiple contingencies. Ian Desmond hasn't had a TJ, or any injuries - they made him a fair-but-bottom-of-market offer, and with Escobar-Trea Turner seem ready to let him leave [I love Desi but, unlike you, don't think extending him is a big priority - he's a good defensive SS who'll probably need to move to 3B in his 30s (where Rendon could be for a long time), BUT his slugger skills at the plate - high-K, big-swing-and-miss, big-power - age poorly and very steeply, typically starting at about 32]. But with the staff: even without Zimmermann, Fister, and Strasburg, the Nats have enough of a 2017 rotation under team control to be comfortable letting them all leave. Scherzer, Gio (team option), Roark (pre-arbitration) are set - and while prospects wash out and pitchers get hurt, it isn't crazy to think that they'll get two good or better starters by 2017 out of Giolito, Cole, Treinen, Solis, Jordan, Ross, and/or a fast riser like Rivero or someone else. Even with Scherzer, that would be a VERY cheap rotation - and with the other salaries that've come off the books, would leave the Nats with plenty of room for manuever, to re-sign Stras, another vet, or key position player upgrade.

Folks, this is an intelligent sensible post. Though it may look insanely complex. It illustrates how tangled and interwoven "team building" is in baseball. And how absolutely central.

There's a school of thought that, for '16, Escobar, if healthy, would be as good a defensive SS as Desmond. I have to see that to believe it.

Tom, I'm from the SF area and was really sad to see such a promising player as Borland have to opt out of the NFL, though I understand his concerns. In all this discussion, however, I haven't seem one word about the sport of boxing. Isn't a major objective of boxing to give the opponent a concussion (i.e., a knockout)? How can it be so bad in one sport and ignored by another?

That's why boxing died. "Punch drunk" isn't a joke. When I covered boxing for the Post I saw it all the time. You'd talk to 30-year-old club fighters who, mentally, were already well into the downward slide.

All aspect of brain injury are very upsetting, but few more so than Liz Clarke's reporting on Joe Gibbs' press conference over the weekend about his ailing son J.D. Heartbreaking.

Tom, your anecdote in your Sunday column about Dave Parker explaining why he wore a Star of David was laugh-out-loud funny. For some reason it made me think back to when I was 16 (this would have been been 1986) and riding on a train in England reading your book How Life Imitates the World Series. I get the part about some kid in your neighborhood named Ladislaw Turlueki and consequently got the nickname, Colesalw & Turkey. I guess because it was just a surprise, I laughed myself silly and these three 50-something British gentleman insisted I share my amusement. I don't think they thought it was as funny as I did. Anyway - thoughts on SI's pick of the Indians to win the World Series?

Well, I couldn't pass that one up. And memories of "Coleslaw & Turkey."

SI picked who for what?

Good writers are seldom good pickers.

Last year Mike Rizzo stuck to the line that there wouldn't be any expensive additions to the lineup because ownership had set a limit on total salary expenses. Then Boras/Scherzer break the bank. What should we believe going forward if/when the Nats say they can't afford to sign any of their high-profile free agents-to-be?

Last week, Mike mentioned to me that the current ~$148M might be a high point, not a way-station to higher budgets. And he thought it was enough. He meant it in very general terms, not a Team Doctrine. And, of course, "everything changes everything." But I thought it was interesting.

Do you see him getting traded during the season?


Says his shoulder feels good again. And he's found his good curve. Won't have to resort to so many change-ups to keep 'em off his fastball. And he has a team-friendly contract.

Here's a link to the SI story -- from the folks who gave you the last seven Nats world titles, Harper will hit 800 home runs and Strasburg is better than Bob Feller.

Does he start Opening Day?

Yes, no question. And probably hitting leadoff. He looks good. Of course, I only saw him go single, double, homer, walk on Sunday.

BTW, the Indians are picked to beat the Nats in the World Series.

If you make it even-money, I'll be glad to bet against both sides of that pick.

Oh, that's right. I hate sports gambling. Now I have to get off my own lawn.

How is the front office consistently wrong with the timetable back for injured players?

A well-known and very good ex-player "explained" this phenomenon to me recently -- sarcastically, but seriously. How does every minor injury -- including Nats injuries --end up costing the player and team three or four weeks of down time?

"It's the damn trainers. They are all taught by doctors. My uncle was a doctor. I thought I was going to be a doctor. I made rounds with him. He'd ask a woman, 'What's wrong?' She'd say, 'I can't lift my arm. It hurts because I've been carrying too many groceries.' So, my uncle would always say, 'Don't carry any groceries for two weeks, then get back to me and we'll see how you are doing.'

"Well, the trainers these days are all taught by doctors. A player comes in and say, 'This hurts.' What do they say? "Well, don't do that FOR TWO WEEKS, then we'll look at it again.' This is friggin' major league baseball. If you stop doing anything for two weeks, then it takes another week or two to get back to game speed. These aren't life and death injuries. Whatever happened to the trainers I used to have who said, 'I've got this Magic Tape.' It'll fix you right up.' And you played.

"But, hey, that's not good enough anymore because today's trainers were formally taught by DOCTORS."

So, I mentioned Ralph Salvon, the Orioles trainer in Jim Palmer's heyday. Jim used to talk about this great lotion that Ralph use to rub into his arm and shoulder when it was stiff or sore and, man, it worked great. Kind of tingled, little bit sticky, left a stain -- but it was the real thing. Ralph had a whole riff about what it was and why it worked so well.

One day I asked another Oriole pitcher whether he had Ralph use that rub on him. He looked at me like I was crazy. Turns out Ralph WAS using "the real thing."

The magic lotion was Coca Cola.


That's it for today. Gotta catch a plane back from paradise to D.C.

Time Begins in One Week.


Thought you might enjoy more TJ info.

Harper has walked more than struck out this spring, and Zim has only struck out a few times. But, Desmond and Espinosa continue their staggering K/BB rates. Is it just "Spring Training" at-bats, or is this a sign of trouble for Des and Espi?

It's a very good sign for Harper. He's not walking because they are wild. In the ABs I've seen he's walking because he is being properly selective. If he hits No. 3 and has more than 90 walks, he'll have a fine season. One leads to the other.

Forgive my ignorance, but isn't the point spread designed to even out the betting into two roughly equal camps. So does "Vegas" ever lose, or does just a different set of people lose money when something odd happens at the end of a game? This is an honest question, no sarcasm intended.

That's the theory. In practice, their books were out of balance. IOW, they couldn't get the line to a place where it would draw enough action on the other side to get them even. Their problem: They're not going to turn down a bet. That's their business. Sometimes they can't get it balanced __or even close. But they've done well for the whole March Madness because a lot of early upsets helped them. Or that's what I read. The blind leading the blind. 

Per Baseball Reference, through age 21, Harper most resembles, in order, Justin Upton, Rubin Sierra, Andruw Jones, Conigliaro, Mantle, Miguel Cabrera, etc. He's doing just fine. And it will be exciting watching him for a full, healthy season, whenever he has one.


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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