Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 05, 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

Chip Kelly has generated considerable debate this year with his massive roster changes. Do you think the new roster just needs more time together, or have teams simply figured out his offense?

Looks like Chip Kelly is a prize dope. The Eagles will get better, if only because I don't know how they could look worse. But, as Mark Maske just wrote this morning, it looks like "total control" for Kelly has led to a total reversal of franchise direction for the Eagles.

The burden of proof is ALWAYS on the college coach like Kelly (or Spurrier within the memory of Skins fans) to prove that their college style works. Assume it doesn't until multiple years show that it does.

Spurrier suddenly discovered that all his pass plays that were designed to throw into "open areas" on the field and let his receivers appear in those spots on rhythm for catches did not work in the NFL because those "open areas" were much smaller. Faster better defenders and more study time to analyze Steve's tendencies meant that defenders made those windows very small very fast and often turned them into INTs. Also, his system kept very few receivers in to block. So if the "first look" wasn't there and a Ramsey had to "reload" here came the sacks and the pain.

The only reason the Eagles got the points and yards that they did is because the injured Skins couldn't cover anybody deep. At ALL. Better hope the Falcons are complacent. If they bring their A or B offensive game, Atlanta will probably roll up a lot of yards and plenty of points on Skins. Bend-don't-break and make 'em settle for field goals may be the best hope for the (improved) D. 

Please help me make sense of Bryce Harper's walks. He walked 124 times this season or almost one-fifth of his plate appearances. At first, I thought that each walk was almost as good as a single and good for the team. But then I thought that they were also a measure of how poor the rest of the lineup was. Pitchers feared no one else and seemed to walk Harper almost without regard to the game situation. Your take?

The VERY greatest hitters also draw the most walks. Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, (ugh) Barry Bonds. Also Lou Gehrig, Mantle and many others. Few players can hit "balls" for home runs. So discipline is essential because every pitcher in the league will try to help you get yourself out. The single best sign in the entire Harper season is the 124 walks. That means even without a top cleanup hitter behind him he led the league in runs (118), tied for lead in HR (42), had 81 extra-base hits (second in NL.)

THE reason the Nats ended up so high in runs, despite all the injruies was the total impact of everything Harper did, including the walks that pushed up other runners who ended up scoring, even if he didn't.

Harper did league in on-base percentage (hardest man to get out) AND slugging average (most powerful damaging hitter). So his COMBINED on-base, plus slugging (OPS) was astronomical. His 1.114 was 104 points higher than anybody else in baseball. I'll have to find out the last time an honest player led by > .100.

From reader Patrick Hughes: Only players w OPS > 1.100 before age 24: Ted Williams at 22 in '41 when he hit .406 and now Bryce Harper 1.114.

Who had OPS >1.100 at 24:  Lou Gehrig, Mantle, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth. Nobody else. So, possible Harper will have good career.

This one year should make the Lerners very serious about signing him to a career contract whenever/if that moment becomes possible. It's a risk. Everything is a risk. But I'd sure rather give $400M to a 22-year-old hitter than $210M to a (then) 30-year-old pitcher. Think of it as $190M (or whatever it is) for ages 23 through 29. Then six more years to 35.

There'll be lots of negative Nats stuff. But if Harper is a >.900 OPS player -- and I think there's little doubt of that -- he's a huge star. But if he's >.950 or >1.000, which may very well be the case, and you DON'T sign him, you'll regret it forever. Forget 1.100. He never has to do it again. If he's ~1.000 he's Albert Pujols in his prime. And if you putt better people around him -- or if Zimmerman (as he vows) finds a way to stay healthy and be a 100-RBI man behind him for years, then Harper will drive in 110-125 runs, not 99.

Hi Tom, With your column this morning after a big Redskin's win and with the Nationals season over and done with, and with DC being a Redskin's town and all, you are probably getting 99 and 44/100% questions about the Redskins, right? just wondering.

Two to one Nats, maybe more. But that may be because I've spent my life loving baseball and being addicted to it while football has been my No. 2 game. Seen 98 percent of Skins game all my life, but I'm associated more with baseball. 

But I'll get to every Skins question I can, or that I see, because I do think they have improved. Just watched the game again. Lotta ways they could have lost. But this time -- they DIDN'T.

Hi Bos--How much is Matt Williams due to be paid next season, and would letting him go and having to eat his salary affect letting Papelbon go too? How many millions are the Lerners willing to pay to make problems go away?

No manager makes enough to consider that in your decision. Heck, Matt Thornton made $3.5M! A new manager is a lot easier to find that a left-handed lefty specialist!

Baseball stat folks have a hard time analyzing the value of a manager. And they admit it. But the current conventional wisdom is that at least 95 percent of all managers in history have made little difference to their teams -- between -2.0 WAR for a bad manager and +2.0 WAR for a good one.

Only six managers in the last 60 years have jumped out, statistically, as having significant benefit to their teams. No. 1: Bobby Cox. Too bad that a seven-game series in post-season isn't a big enough sample size for that impact to be felt. The other five, in no order, are Earl Weaver, Davey Johnson, Tony LaRussa, Billy Martin and (!???) Russ Nixon.

As for Papelbon's $11M in '17, that should be very close to No Factor At All for the Lerners. They just spent (wasted) $10M over two years on Nate McLouth and got negative WAR value for him -- and nobody even noticed the "hit" to the payroll. It's the multi-year contracts that kill you and change the trajectory of a franchise. If you, hypothetically, signed a good reliever to a 7-yr/$77M contract -- $11M a year -- and he turned out to be a disaster as a pitcher or as a teammate, then you have a problem.

One year, $11M? Throw the bull out.

Unless you think -- and some with the Nats may -- that it will be hard to duplicate Papelbon's pitching talent, even at 35, and that if he can make-up with Harper and stop acting like anger-management-problem, he can reduce the amount of rebuilding you need to do for '16. 

I'd disagree with that. If you were making a list of MLB problem children, Papelbon has usually been on it. This was in character -- holding a grudge about Harper's comments about him hitting Machado, then starting trouble on a false reputation-damaging pretext (insufficient hustle on a play where Harper ran enough for all practical purposes).

I'd say that the Nats should give some thought to making up with Storen, then using him in the seventh or eighth.It might be good for both sides. Everybody likes Storen personally. But he's severely damaged good right now. Who's going to give him a better chance to get his career, and rep, back on track than the Nats -- especially surrounded by a winning team? Is there anybody? I doubt it. He should think, "I stunk in several big games. Then I smacked a locker and broke my thumb. I need to say, 'I'm REALLY sorry. I'm still the guy who had the 1.20 ERA over a 24 month span before everything went wrong. And I'll be HAPPY to play my walk year with the Nats." Nats say, "We haven't shown much confidence in you. That didn't help. Here's a hug for all the good stuff you've done. Lets try to have a good '16." (But don't use him in the ninth inning of a playoff game, if you get there. Some karma is just too heavy.

...

Nats just FIRED Matt Williams, as expected. So, I'll take some questions on that.

Good morning Boz, When should we expect an announcement about Matt Williams? Will there be an announcement if they keep him, or will there just be no announcement? I expect him to be fired. However, there was some secondhand info published in the Post in which a person close to the situation said that Rizzo told Williams that he is fighting for him. So there appears to be some question. Thanks for the great chats!

Thanks. It's already happened a few minutes ago.

A couple of weeks ago, you could still make the case for Williams -- not a strong case, but a defense of him as an average manager and not The Cause of the '15 pratfall. And I did a whole column making that case while saying that, essentially, I couldn't care less if you fired him because I thought he as average at best and 1) sometimes teams actually need scapegoats or fresh starts and 2) late in terrible seasons, teams/players start to go negative on the manager because he deserves it or because you'd rather see the heat on him rather than on you.

Both 1) and 2) came into play. The end was SO bad with the sweep by the Orioles when the Nats still had a chance to make the final weekend in New York interesting (though unlikely to be meaningful and the Papelbon-Harper fight that Matt's fate was sealed. It was like a fighter on the ropes getting hit by two more haymakers -- a huge right and a left hook. (Or a left choke, perhaps.)

Maybe nothing made Williams look worse than admitting that he sent Papelbon back out to pitch the ninth inning because he didn't actually see the fight or only caught a glimpse of it and didn't know how bad it was. How bad do your lines of communication with players and your own coaches have to be, how isolated on your own team do you have to be, how hard to approach with bad news do you have to be for about 30 people to go 0-for-30 in telling you, "Skip/boss, you can't send Papelbon back out there.

"He just CHOKED Harper. It was bad. It's going to LOOK even worse.  And he provoked him and then attacked him. Didn't you hear him screaming curse words at Harper as he came back toward the dugout? Where are you -- on the moon?"

I still wonder if 1) Williams just wanted to win the game and denied to himself how bad the fight was or 2) wanted to punish Papelbon in some way (he left him out there to give up five runs and get the loss). Those, by the way, are contradictory interpretation: Wanna win, wanna punish.

So, out to lunch on something that happened less than 60 feet away and inflexible-by-nature to unexpected in-game events is the way to bet. Also, I takee Matt for honest and square and not someone to make up a bunch of nonsense about this. I'll end up taking his story at face value.

Which led to this lede of my next column: "If Matt Williams had been at Ford's Theater in 1865, he'd have said, "Somebody got shot???"

...

Here are links to our first couple of Williams firing stories.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/nationals-fire-matt-williams-after-two-seasons/2015/10/05/482f6248-69fb-11e5-9223-70cb36460919_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/mike-rizzo-took-a-gamble-that-didnt-pan-out/2015/10/05/ec741418-686e-11e5-9223-70cb36460919_story.html

Are there any teams for which Jonathan Papelbon's idea of "playing the game the right way" would be a good fit? Or is he destined to be an albatross around the Nationals' neck?

Somebody always wants a reliever with a sub 2.50 ERA (in '15) and hundreds of saves who finished the year healthy. But the Nats will have to eat all or most of his salary.

Remember, $11M isn't THAT much, not even for a team with less revenue than the Nats. The Braves paid all $11M of Dan Uggla's salary in '15 after they released him. And he ended up being part of the Nats bench all season (and hit a homer on Saturday) for $0.00.

What are his plusses and minuses?

He's a fascinating option.

The bad: His last 4 years with the Twins were the worst four-year span in franchise history with 383 loses and an awful (give up?) record of 78-148 after August 1.

Also, Ron's record was 6-21 in post-season games and he advanced in the playoffs only once -- which puts him one ahead of the Nats. Also, he's fiery and got ejected 72 times. But that might be fun. At 57, he's a typical manager age and has only been out of the game since last year -- fired in '14.

But nobody grabbed him for '15, you'll notice.

The good: He was Manager of the Year in '10 and runner-up for Manager of the Year SIX times! He won his division SIX times in 13 years as Twins manager.

So, he absolutely doesn't prevent a team from winning. (But he also absolutely doesn't prevent it from losing.) Career record: 1068-1039.

But that is with FAR less talent than he'd have in D.C.

The best analysis is that he gets roughly as much out of his talent as is there to be gotten. That's exactly what Williams is charged with NOT doing.

His style is active, aggressive and he was a peppery, often-injured  infielder for the Mets from '81 to '85.

This is a first glance. But he's an obvious possibility.

Others you will hear immediately.

Cal Ripken: Has done everything except ask, "What day and time is my interview for your job" and -- oh, ever actually manage a game anywhere. I've know him since he was in high school. I think he's one of the greatest players and best people ever to be part of baseball. What you see is exactly who he is -- except he's also funny, profane and sarcastic in private. When he's in the mood, he's total colorful-story-telling semi-cynical smart ass. That version of Cal could do a late-night talk show. Yes, they are both real. They co-exist easily. Come on, he's a ballplayer. He's so tough he played 10,000 games in a row. But he's a really good responsible guy.

How wide is the range of people he can relate to on a team? For example, what would he make of Papelbon. (Or would he just go up and grab him, lift him in the air and remind him that Cal is like the strongest guy ever to throw people around in a clubhouse.) How would his dad's concept of "perfect practice" work with 25 different personalities? How quick would he be at in-game strategy? Who would he want as bench coach. (Yeah, go and say Davey Johnson. They are crazy about each other. Davey managed Cal and was tough with him, earning his respect -- Davey took Cal out of a game for a pinch runner (oh, was he pissed) to break his consecutive innings streak and then also moved him from SS to third, against resistance from Cal, to put Bordick at SS. No, Davey is NOT coming back to be his bench coach. (Hey, it's just a chat. I get to have fun and cause trouble. But I will say that the only person who could manage a team who would have a big enough presence to keep Davey's ego in Position 2, even at age 72, might be Cal.)

Bud Black's a quality person and baseball man. Maybe never had the horses in San Diego. He can handle pitching -- both starting and a bullpen. THAT is what sank the Nats. He's smart, sufficiently out-going and experienced. But there isn't a line outside his door. So I probably don't know the whole story from 3,000 miles away.

Rizzo knows two key Reds -- manager Price, coming off a poor season and under contract, and bench coach Jay Bell, 49, no MLB managerial experience. Rizzo knows both from Arizona days. Bell's respected, but that's a long shot.

Bo Porter. Some thought the Nats made a mistake letting him get away. Class guy. But his Houston stay as manager got awful reviews for in-game strategy and in general. Don't know how much, or little of that was true. But it's a big hurdle.

Willie Randolph, 61, is a wonderful person, won 97 with the '06 Mets and got to within one game of the World Series. He also presided over the unspeakable Mets collapse -- up seven games with 17 to play -- and seemed overwhelmed by it, unable to affect anything. He was part of Buck Showalter's staff in Baltimore in '11 and '12. Has been in TV and other baseball work since. His time has probably passed.

There are more. And since I don't get the "feel" that any of these are the final answer, Rizzo probably has somebody else in mind.

Randy Knorr would be mentioned more prominently, but his wife died this season. It was a terrible blow to him. He's talked to friends about how hard it is for him. Just doesn't seem like the time to take on such a burden. But I could be wrong. Plenty of Nats came up with him and like him (including the departing Desmond who's a good judge of people).

If Harper was offered the $400 million contract by the Nats, do you think he would take it?

Whatever Harper gets, whenever he gets it, his agent Scott Boras will want to "set the record." But Harper is -- my best evaluation without a crystal ball -- going to be worth it. And he sells tickets.

Before this year, I'd have said, "Not mature enough. May not be a good team leader as he ages. How much will he get hurt over the years? What is his ceiling? No, don't even make an offer because it would have to be huge and you could be completely wrong."

After this year I'd say, "He's now very mature for 22 and will get better. He's a good influence of a team now because he's so hell-for-leather most of the time (though not all). And will get better. But he's not perfect. He played 154 in '15. But he has gotten hurt twice. But Mickey Mantle had some injuries, too. His ceiling is...Mantle, if he has 15 more years like '15. His "floor" is perennial All-Star when even minimally healthy. So, make your absolute best we-really-want-him offer and the sooner the better. If that doesn't work,. at least you SERIOUSLY tried -- and you did it in time. Not "oh, we can wait a year or two to deal with that." No, you probably can't.

I know Escobar was given the error that spoiled Scherzer's perfect game, but it looked to me as if it were equally Robinson's fault. What do you think?

They both screwed up.

That was a tough hop. But when the runner is out by that much you have some flexibility in how you play that hop. You can give with it, go out and attack it. Robinson can hit. He's worked at being a good first baseman for years. He hasn't succeeded yet. Escobar gets the E%. But I'm sure the both blame themselves. 

...that's an impressive drive anytime, but to win a tough division game it's especially nice for any team.

It was nice to see the mix of Morris runs early in the drive and Cousins ability to read defenses and throw with guts into small windows with a game on the line. His third-and-six pass to Garcon over the middle was nice. Then his pass to Garcon to the 4, after pump-faking left, was a nice touch. He'd barely "looked off" a DB all day. I thought he starred down receivers a little too much. But on that one, he crossed 'em up.

Also, Cousins' scramble for eight yards on third and 6 -- the play was negated by off-setting penalties -- was a wonderful clutch escape from what looked like an eight-yard sack, swamped by THREE rushers. Very clutch athletic play. He's somewhat limited in skills, but not VERY limited. Had a poor day on deep balls.

Don't forget that his pass in the end zone to Grant drew a flag, a 17-yard interference penalty and a first down at the one-yard line  -- so it was al;most the same thing as a TD pass, but he gets no credit.

But ALSO don't forget that he then immediately fumbled a snap at the ONE and almost cost the Skins seven points. That's an inexcusable nervous mistake.

.....

Here's some Kilgore on Randy Knorr.

https://twitter.com/AdamKilgoreWP/status/651065990202023936

What do you think of his comments saying the lineup needed a left handed bat and I big right handed bat to protect him

Just honesty.

They need a LHed bat. Ryan Zimmerman thinks he is that big 100-RBI RH bat. We had a good talk about his off-season program. Hopes to get more flexible. Also, he knows that, after age 30, players capable of hitting 25 or 30 homers -- when healthy -- HAVE to stay healthy. If that means making a TON of plays at ~90 percent effort -- like Eddie Murray much of his career --that's necessary and it's GREAT. I'm not sure I ever saw Murray leave his feet for a ground ball in all his years at 1st. But he was still, overall, a good first baseman and played 160 games a year. Sometimes it's better to be smart.

"That may be hard for me. I was taught always to go 100 percent on everything," said Zimmerman. But he gets it. He's got a chronic bad heel-foot. He can play under control, hope to stay healthy and maybe hit like he did the second half this year -- or close to it. Or he can dive all over the place, go first-to-third like he was still 25 and try his crazy slides into home plate -- and be pretty much washed up before his contract runs out. He's got achoice -- to a degree. And it's a big one for the Nats. 

Time to go. A column in my future.

Boz, I read Barry's three-part series on the Nats' season and I was riveted. I'm sure you read it, too. My question is, did you have any kind of a sense of how bad it seems to have gotten inside that clubhouse? Did people close to the team know about it at the time? Is it as bad as it looks?

It was a wonderful series. Especially liked Part Three. Barry, as usual, turned rumblings into solid reporting.

He stuck with it when it barely got going. And it finally paid off on the final drive with some big runs. Cousins threw a bunch but they could still run when it counted.

Gruden (finally) stuck to his guns and it probably opened things up enough that it helped win him the game.

(Sean McVay calls the specific plays but the head coach is responsible for the Theory of Everything and getting the proper mix, especially in a final drive. The head coach gets the blame if it doesn't work, so he should get some of the credit when it does.)

Who you got?

Like the Cubs a lot. Arrieta will be very tough. Love the Pirates. It's just too good a game not to pick one and decide to have a rooting interest as well as an analytical view. Either would be a wonderful team -- for baseball and for fans -- to make the World Series.  

Predictions for the Astros/Yankees game? Great to see the Astros back in the playoffs.....

Yanks look worried, upset, playing poorly recently vs Orioles. Obviously, I'm going to be a cliche and pull for the Astros. But post-season experience shows up overnight. It'll help the Yanks, regardless of recent form.

How likely is it that Rizzo would hire Martinez after passing on him for Williams two years ago? Assuming he would use the pen in a similar way to Maddon, he'd be a radical departure from Williams--and I think that would be for the best!

He's certainly on every list and in every conversation.

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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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