Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Nov 13, 2017

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Boz - the playing surface for Denver's primetime matchup against the Patriots last night looked as pristine as the first fairway at Augusta. Not an easy feet, I would imagine, given the harsh climate and mile high altitude. FedEx, meanwhile, featured a field that after 10 minutes of action looked like it had just played host to the Battle of Antietam. It seems like the playing conditions at FedEx are an issue year after year. What gives?

In the press box we were pointing at the ugly field even BEFORE the game.

I like the Antietam line, may steal it.

FedEx Field has worse turf than Rock Creek Park’s golf course

That's a very good point. He totally deked the DB into thinking he wasn't part of the play, then got huge separation by goal-line standards. Then just fell down.

That cost the Skins four points since they settled for a FG in the third quarter.

Ex-Skin Kai Forbath's 53-yd field goal in the 4Q was a big kick, providing an 11-point lead. "I wanted to give him a kiss after that one," said Keenum. "It was awesome." 

Especially on that field. So was Rose's 55-yarder!

I was disappointed that the Nationals didn't win more awards. I do admire Paul Goldschmidt, but I thought Ryan Zimmerman had a good chance for a Silver Slugger (36 home runs!). I love both Stras and Mad Max, but I'm afraid they will split the Cy Young vote and give Kershaw the win. Your thoughts?

I think Scherzer will win the Cy Young Award, probably by a surprising amount. And if he does, I agree with that evaluation.

Kershaew has the better W-L record (18-4 to 16-6) and ERA (2.31 to 2.51) but it won't matter in this age of advanced metrics. Nobody will even spit on W-L record anymore. Especially since the Nats bullpen killed Max early in the season. Also, Max's 2.90 FIP will get more weight, or at least neutralize Kershaw's edge in ERA, because Clayton's FIP was 3.07.

OTOH, Scherzer leads Kershaw in about 10 areas that matter these days. WAR (6.0 to 4.6 where Kershaw only ranks 5th in the NL according to Fan Graphs). WHIP (0.90 to 0.95). Batting average against (.178, one of the best marks IN HISTORY to .212), K's (268 to 202). Innings (200.2 to 175). OPS versus (.566 to .604). K-per--9IP (12.02 to 10.39).

Feel free to win an office bet on this. It's not a lock. But it's close. Strasburg won't steal many, if any top votes from Scherzer because, like Kershaw, he missed starts and only pitched 175 innings. 

FWIW, if you included the playoffs (and they ARE the most important part of the season), the MLB leaders in ERA this season would be Strasburg 2.33, Scherzer and Kershaw both 2.55 and Kluber 2.57.

Do we know what the Nats will be paying Martinez? I haven't seen it anywhere, and I've looked for it. I'm just wondering if they lowballed him in order to give him a multiyear contract.

What is of note is that it's a three-year contract, not the Nats usual two-year deal. It's a step toward showing that the Nats are willing to look at MLB norms when hiring managers -- or perhaps in future at extending them.

Nobody's reported a salary. But any rookie manager is going to be considerably less than the average salary for a MLB player which is $5M. The cheap cost of almost ANY manager still surprises me. If one extra win a season -- a WAR of 1.0 -- is supposedly valued at something like $7-to-$8-a-year on the free agent market, then the MLB market place is "saying" that managers -- all of them -- are virtually identical and of almost no value whatsoever.

There's an inherent hypocrisy here. You pay a Dusty Baker $2M-a-year -- valuing him at about 1/2 of Oliver Perez -- then when the team (just barely) disappoints with a Game 5 playoff exit, the response of Fire The Manager is somehow seen as an appropriate action.

Well, if no manager is worth beans, then why does firing him solve a problem?

Part of the answer is just supply and demand. There are only 30 managing jobs and about 30 million people who think that they could do that job. So the supply drives down the price.

Still, if ANYBODY in MLB really thought that any manager was enormously valuable, wouldn't there be such a thing as a >$10M manager in a world with $30-million/year players?

It's apparent to me that Harper will,likely not stay in DC. I don't think he's worth whatever he may get say 30-35 million per year. Why not try to deal him now to the Yankess for say a catcher like Sanchez and let The Robles era begin. He's streaky (Harper that is) who rarely performs when it matters. The majority of his playoff home runs with the one exception against the Cubs have come when the game was essentially over. Probably unlikely happen I realize but I'm guessing if his were his last year, Rizzo and company wouldn't be losing a lot of sleep. He's not worth the money and/or hype. Invest in Rendon and a few top line free agents and hand right field over to Robles.

Nobody in MLB thinks that Harper is going anywhere next year because the Nats still have a clear World Series window, even if they are now ranked fourth or fifth-best chance to win the '18 WS by Vegas odds. 

MLB.com's Jerry Crasnick did a pole of 40 MLB execs and scouts. Among the questions was which big-name '18 Free Agent would be traded before he got to freedom. Most likely, McCutcheon, then Josh Donaldson. Machado got ZERO votes out of 40 that he'd be traded (because Angelos sometimes intervenes and kills deals, like perhaps a Britton to LAD move the trade deadline last season).

Harper wasn't even included in the question! That's how far-fetched people outside D.C. think a Harper trade is.

I agree. You'd be surprised how little you get for ONE year of ANYBODY.

The comment below makes him sound like a Luddite. Was there bad blood or something? “...the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Cardinals executive John Mozeliak “wanted to rethink the strategy of pitching use and have a pitching coach open to the data available and some modern views of how pitchers should be deployed.” ‘

I hadn't seen that quote. The Cards pitching staff has had good results in recent years based on a complex metric which few grasp -- runs allowed. You know, runs up on the scoreboard.

Lilliquest seemed to do pretty well with that.

Sometimes, you just gotta fire SOMEBODY to atone for the sins of the many. In DC, Dusty. In St. Louis, maybe Lilliquest.

I think Mike Maddox was an excellent pitching coach, as good as his reputation. The only thing that surprised me was that, in SOME areas, he's basically Old School -0 not that far from things you'd expect Nolan Ryan to say/believe. (Maddox was a coach in Texas when Ryan ran things there, I believe.) He was OK with fairly high pitch counts -- including over 100 and even over 110 -- don't bother him if he thinks the pitcher is throwing freely. I've never heard him mention an "analytics" number.

Mike would do traditional things which could probably be backed up by analytics. Like getting Gio to throw a LOT more curveballs -- his best pitch -- so that he could be effective with a slower fastball as he's aged. Also, I think Maddox gets some of the credit for Strasburg pitching ONLY from the stretch. Of course, Don Larsen was doing that as far back as his perfect game in the '56 World Series. I think the no-wind-up was a big piece of Strasburg's better consistency and his CONFIDENCE with men on base. He proved to himself that his stuff could still be over-powering, but with more consistent command, if he never had to work on or worry about the more tangled mechanics of the full wind-up.

One of the reasons Maddox and Baker got along so well was that they THOUGHT ALIKE about pitching. Chew on that.

Look forward to Lilliquest. He has a tough act to follow, but a fine reputation and track record in St. Louis. If anything, Lilliquest may be MORE in touch with 'modern views' than Maddox. Not saying that's good or bad. But I doubt the Nats would hire Davey (Advanced Metrics) Martinez, the Joe Maddon right-hand man, then link him up with a pitching coach who was on a different page.  

Love these Monday chats! If the Nats' ownership and Rizzo decide they won't have the funds to sign Harper to a long-term deal, wouldn't it make more sense to explore trading him this offseason? Allocate the funds for a "cheaper" deal with Rendon, and re-stock the depleted farm system by trading Harper. I'd hate to see him walk after next year and the Nats receive nothing in return. Would you at least consider doing it?

The Nats just fired a manager because he didn't win the World Series. At least they came perilously close to framing it that way in their public remarks. (I'd bet ANYTHING that they'd have extended Baker if he'd just MADE the WS and probably would have kept him if they made the NLCS and gone deep into it -- six or seven games.)

So, you can't fire Baker, reaffirm your desire to Win Now, and THEN trade Harper for "prospects" who'll help you in '19 or '20 or '21. That'd be insanity.

So, please, NO MORE trade Harper talk unless they are a dozen games out of the NL East lead at the All-Star break.

Besides, aren't you forgetting that Strasburg signed a $175M extension in MAY of his walk year. He's a Boras client, too. If the Nats have any significant chance to keep Harper, maybe that's when he get the final answer -- does it get done by roughly the same time as the Strasburg deal.

I thought Strasburg was gone. Seems he's still around. I think Harper will be gone after '18. I may enjoy being wrong on that, too. (But I doubt it.)     

Maybe this more of a question suitable to a "personal" columnist than to a sports columnist like you. However expecially since the news last week of the massive brain destruction, my word, to Adam Hernandez I am feeling guilty about watching the NFL. Than the NFL hypocrisy regarding Russell Wilson last week enraged me. And this is on You Tube. He took a hard hit and then went into the concussion exam tent for a total of about 5 seconds and when back on the field and no one stopped. Then the NFL is supposedly looking into this. Of course I can and probably will stop watching. But should we all be concerned? Thanks

This issue concerns me a great deal -- until the game starts. Then, despite all it's problems, the NFL is still an exciting sport.

What I do find is that I have almost NO interest in watching random NFL games, especially involving teams that the Skins will not play or whose games have no bearing on the Skins possible playoff chances. For example, I taped the Dallas-Atlanta and NE-Denver games because, usually, in the past, I'd find a way to watch them in an hour each. 

I wonder if I will this week? So, if somebody who WRITES about the NFL as a slice of his job has less interest in watching non-essential games, then you are probably typical of many fans who, while they still watch the NFL despite their "emotional conflict," watch it LESS.

And "less" often leads to "less and less." 

With NFL ratings down, I was wondering if the Washington Post has noticed anything with regard to the percentage of clicks on sports articles that are Redskins related vs. other topics. I'm sure the Redskins still get by far the most, I was just wondering if the percentage was declining.

Sorry, I don't have the data.

But I think that Sunday's loss really had a severe dampening effect on interest for the rest of the season. Maybe that means it softens from "ridiculously large" to merely "incomprehensibly large." But that was a BIG game that almost had to be won if the Skins were not just going to be a likeable, injured, plucky, average team but also a likeable, injured, plucky, average PLAYOFF team.

Don't be too quick to write the Skins off for this year. They are, to a degree, under appreciated. They have played, BY FAR, the hardest schedule in the NFL. Football-reference values that SOS (strength of schedule) at 4.8 points a game. That's very high in any season. By this point deep into a season, I think the Simple Rating System at football-reference.com has value for getting a general sense of how a team's season may play out the rest of the way. 

Using that SRS, these would be the "lines" for the rest of the Skins games.

Skins would be BIG favorites -- by 11.4 pts, 10.5, 10.2 and 7.4 -- in their remaining games against the Giants, Arizona and Denver (all at FedEx) and at the Giants to end the season. That's FOUR pretty-darn-likely wins. That's 8-8.

They'd be underdogs by 13.6 pts, 3.4 and 0.4 in road games at New Orleans, Dallas and Chargers. 

Maybe SRS is wrong and the Skins brutal schedule shoudln't be counted so heavily. But they HAVE played winning teams with records of 8-1, 8-1 (Philly twice), 5-4 (Dallas), 7-2 (Rams), 7-2 (Vikes), 6-3 (Seattle) and 6-3 (KC).  And they beat the Rams and Seahawks.

This can still be a respectable 8-8 team or a 9-7 team at the edge of playoff contention.

The biggest problem -- the NFC is so strong this year. The Skins 4-5 record only ties them for the 11th (!) best record in the NFC. It's going to be hard for 9-7 to make it. And if the future starts looking bleak if they lose in New Orleans -- which now has a strong running game and good defense which is taking pressure off Drew Brees -- there may be a tendency to nurse injuries, not play as recklessly and semi-pack-it-in.

They need to realize that, after New Orleans, if they played to the maximum of their capability, and got a few breaks, they could -- maybe, I don't really think so, but you "gotta believe" if you're an NFL player --run the table. 

(Pretend I didn't say that.)

So, the "Redskins Renaissance" lasted a whole week, so we turn back to what will be Topic A between now and a year from now - Bryce and the Nats. I thought your column a few weeks ago on his signability and performance, etc was a little brutal, which was probably its intent. Naive fans like me read it and think "thanks Boz for running Bryce out of town" and also wonder if some sort of campaign has already begun to soften the blow when he leaves for greener pastures or ivy for that matter. A great deal of time and money has been spent by the Lerners for Boras clients. Some really smart (Scherzer) money and some really stupid (Weiters) money. Clearly there is a strong relationship between ownership and Boras - is that totally irrelevant vis a vis Harper staying or going? Harper doesn't strike me as an A-Rod type who will demand the largest contract ever. Am I being really naive in thinking that Harper wants to be a Brett, Ripken, Jeter , being a lifer for a franchise and a local God for life and not be a Pujols?

I'm always looking for "insights." Something I didn't know or didn't expect. The Harper column was one of those moments. Some readers tend to think "what does it MEAN that he wrote this?" Give it a rest. All that it MEANS is that I had an actual new idea (for me), born out of data, and that I said, "This would be a really interesting column. It's kinda tough on Bryce. But the FACTS are kind tough on Bryce. So, write it. Don't dig out the data then NOT write it."

You'd be surprised how seldom athletes are bothered by FACTS. They're realists about themselves and their craft.

Four of Harper's last five seasons have been significantly impacted by injuries. He's averaged only 128 games a year in his first SIX years when you'd think he'd be as healthy as he's ever going to be. And he's hit .211 in four playoff series, with some power, but he hasn't been enough to get his team out of the first round yet. Is there some "Ovi Factor" in play here?"

A long, long, long term Harper contract is just a fascinating and difficult-to-evaluate subject. And when you find a different angle to it, you say, "Look at this!"

The other part of that story was: Who thought Strasburg would be this durable over the past five years. And is it possible that he's getting past the likely-to-have-an-awful-injury part of his career and heading toward the possibility that, as he identifies problems before they become big injuries, he turns out to be kind of semi-durable and headed to a longish career. Think back. Remember all the "pundits" and analysts of pitching deliveries who, in '10-'11-'12 delighted in saying that BY NOW ('17) Strasburg, and his "reverse W" throwing motion would be blown out, washed up and maybe even retired back in San Diego, just like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Well, it's not working out that way right now, is it.

Boz, I've read your weekly chat for years. In the past I know you've opined about the difference a mlb baseball manager makes/doesn't make. If I remember correctly, you don't think a manager makes a big difference - maybe the difference of a few wins in a season's time. If that's still your opinion, why the big hubbub over not rehiring Dusty (he wasn't fired and that's a significant difference in my mind)?

The issue for me is not that Baker, or No Baker, makes so much difference. It probably doesn't. It's that the whole thing felt like a poor decision-making process -- emotion-driven, angry, scapegoating -- that ignored the advice of the front office and ignored the preferences of a functional clubhouse.

Then waiting more than a week until Dusty went back to California and telling him by phone -- a lot of people have even stronger feelings about Dusty-the Remarkable-Person than they do about Dusty-the-Very-Good-but-Not-Great-Manager. You never want to do ANYTHING that would make anybody think, "That's kind of how Snyder might handle it."

It's time to move on. Storen was a key figure in two bad playoff endings. Rizzo didn't want to endure the same ending, and the same feelings, a third time, even if it wasn't all Drew's fault. Baker has now been a key figure in two more disappointing playoff endings -- though they WERE five-game series in which the Nats were an underdog ('16) and a toss-up ('17) -- and maybe the Lerners just don't want to endure those same feelings a THIRD times with the same manager. I get it. And Martinez was somebody that everybody assumed would have his chance to manage at some point. Now he does. Take a breath. Move on. And wish him the best.  

Now that the Nats season is over and the Redskins are sub .500, can we ask some Caps questions? My main question is who do you think the Capitals will lose to in the first round of the playoffs this year? And will they be swept or will they lose a heartbreaking game 7 at home? Thanks.

No, it's not time yet. Next week. Hey, I still have acute October baseball hangover. I still go back and replay those amazing games, in SEVERAL series, in my mind. And I'm still watching those two-hour MLB-TV condensed games. Game 5 of the WS is STILL unbelievable.

It's hard to precisely rank World Series games or entire World Series. But, without even looking, I'm pretty darn certain that '16 (Cubs) and '17 (Astros) are the two best World Series ever played in consecutive years. Both seven games, both including amazing individual games and both with extra dimensions -- the Cubs winning to end their 108-year drought and the Astros winning to do their part after Houston's once-in-a-century flood.

Last year the Wiz started 2-8. Currently they stand at 7-5. The Wiz have shown they can play toe-to-toe with the Cavs and Warriors, but also shown they can blow big leads against bottom-dwellers such as the Mavs. Twelve games is about 15% of their season. What's your read on the Wiz, their prospects, and how they fit in the Eastern Conference conversation?

They were wise to lock up Otto Porter -- everybody knew they would, but it was still the right move -- because, once again, he just keeps improving every year. And improving all across his game. Five straight years of High-Pick-Flop-to-Okay-to-Pretty-Good-Player to Darn-Good-Player to "Who the Hell IS this Guy?" is a remarkable admirable career track. He's not a superstar, but he's very close to giving the Wiz three legit stars if he keeps up his current pace.

I know you are just dying for me to write about my favorite advanced metrics in the NBA. Well, VORP, Value Over Replacement Player, (the equivalent of WAR in MLB). Also, Win Shares per 48 minutes and Box Score Plus/Minus. Basically, they are three composite stats that attempt to tell you: Who are the best overall players in the NBA. The Super-Duper-Stars always leap to the top. What the heck is Otto doing up there with these legendary guys, even if it's early season? Porter currently ranks 13th, 15th and 9th in those categories -- the highest of any Wizard. Can he stay that good? Can he really have DeMarcus Cousins-level value -- although accumulated with a totally different style game? Porter's also SECOND in the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.664) which is insane. He's seventh in the NBA in steals and fifth-best at avoiding turnovers. He is exceptional at EVERYTHING YOU DON'T NOTICE. Yes, I'll write about him at more length soon. That's the big piece of Wizard good news -- especially if he keeps it up.

The bad news is that once you get past the big three, plus Gortat, there is a BIG drop in Player Efficiency Rating down to the rest of the team. Last year Bogdanovich was useful, if limited. Oubre has talent, but is still more flash than over-all quality game. It's the contributions of the fifth-through-eighth men that concern me. I'm not in a hurry to form an opinion. I only have so many eyes and hours. I'll get there.

That's it for today. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. We'll see how the Skins cope with the Saints, what comes out of the MLB GMs meeting in Orlando this week and more thoughts on the Wiz, Caps and whatever! Thanks for the great questions. See you then. 

Tom - as always thanks for hosting these insightful discussions. It contributes greatly to my knowledge base. Football fans of all strips seem upset and it is showing in ratings, attendance , etc. Baseball fans appear to be reaching nirvana - a new golden age with great young players who truly seem to love their sport. Now is the time for Baseball to act and take back some football fans. I see the primary issue as pace of play. Next year I'm scheduling a vacation in the west coast for the 10 days of the World Series so I can see the games at a reasonable hour. I know owners understand the issue. Do the players? Can't they see there is an amazing opportunity to seize the high ground if they'd would just move along? Perhaps we should put "stat cast" on players time to the plate and how long it takes them to adjust the Velcro on their batting gloves (Love Ryan Zimmerman - but EVERY SWING!!!). Those with the shortest time between pitches receive some type of bonus or a new award at the end of the season "The Tesla Fastest Man in Baseball Award" - can't we just all move along?

GREAT "question."

Lets sic StatCast on Pace of Play Villains!

Get the average MLB game down to ~2:48 and the average playoff game to 3:15 (extra commercial time) and MLB might mop the floor with everybody. OK, maybe not. But for baseball fans it wouldn't be far from Nirvana.

The Tesla Fastest Man in Baseball Award!

Boz, Thinking big picture here at the overall utter lack of success of the Redskins under Dan Snyder as owner. Do you see any hope for the future? I really think this is one of the major problems with fans of the team now. They really have no hope or trust that Snyder and whoever his current henchmen is, now Bruce, previously Cerrato will ever get it right.

When, for the first time in the Snyder Era, I see reason for hope -- real long-term hope, not a patch of 9-7 play -- I'll BE SURE TO TELL YOU.

 

I recognize that a sneeze at Redskins Park is more newsworthy than anything the Wizards or Caps could ever hope to accomplish, but please do not encourage the masses with this talk of running the table. The Skins are a 4-5 team in a league where parity rules. Meanwhile, the 7-5 basketball team looks better than its record indicates, while the 10-7-1 hockey team has won 5 of 6. How about those other teams with legitimate postseason hopes?

Forget I said it.

You are right.

Stop it. Ovechkin averaged 79.2 games per season over his first five seasons. During his first three postseasons, he scored 20 goals in 28 games (a 58.5 goal pace in the regular season), while also putting up 20 assists (a 117 point pace in the regular season). Bottom line is Ovechkin's stats over the first five years of his career were more like the equivalent of Harper playing 150+ games per year, while putting up a 1.000+ OPS in the postseason. It's not Ovechkin's fault that he played in front of defenses featuring guys like Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier, Shaone Morrison, and Milan Jurcina in key roles. Conversely, Harper has now managed to put up pedestrian statistics while playing on stacked teams, especially this season.

I also retract "Ovi Factor."

Thanks for the analysis. And here I thought that "Milan Jurcina" would never be mentioned in this chat.

Boz, Don't quite understand this. Nats had home field advantage in '16. They had Scherzer pitching twice, including at home in Game 5 vs journeyman Rich Hill. Everyone and their grandmother figured us to win. Why underdog?

Strasburg and Ramos, both All-Stars, were hurt late in the season. After Max, rotation was Gio, Roark, Ross, none of whom went past 4 1/3 vs Dodgers and gave up nine runs in 11 1/3 innings.

In '16, Kershaw had 1.69 ERA and Hill 2.12 for the season. That got Hill a $48M contract. How soon we forget.  

How about the '55 and '56 World Series? Fabulous Dodger and Yankee teams, both 7 games, tons of Hall of Famers, a perfect game.

You might be right. I love these words: 1955 was "BEFORE MY TIME."

Forbath’s kick split the uprights and probably sailed 10-15yds beyond the posts. On crappy turf. Why don’t coaches try the 60-70yarders at the ends of games instead of Hail Marys?

Also, Rose made a 55-yarder with a LOT to spare after Gruden passed up shorter chances earlier to go for it on 4th.

What kind of competition should we expect next year? Will the Marlins pop at all? Will any rebuilds test the Nats more so than 2017?

The big winter question is whether Derek Jeter will trade Giancarlo Stanton (and the $295M left on his contract). Most think he'll be traded to hitting-starved team like the Cards or Giants. No, Nats won't be in that 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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