Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 18, 2019

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

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Some Mondays there are 2 or 3 good topics to chat about, then odds and ends. Today is nuts.

March Madness begins with Selection Sunday.

Luckiest team in America? Maybe Maryland Terps --whose play recently doesn't deserve much luck. But take what you get. Terps start with Belmont/Temple winner, then probably face totally-in-turmoil LSU. Their Sweet 16 site would be -- DC! If chalk holds, they play Big 10 rival Michigan State then (ha!) Duke to go to Final Four. Am I looking ahead? Duh. Maybe Mark Turgeon won't be out-coached and his talented players will stop blaming their youth and show up. Hello, bulletin board. 

We're now into three games in 15 days between the Caps and the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning. Last week TB, with a 6-3 win at home, got some slight revenge for last year's playoffs --when they were blanked by a combined 7-0 in G6-7 as Caps went to Finals. Big test Wednesday.

Maybe you heard: The Skins signed safety Landon Collins for $84M. How has their off-season gone so far? They've also added Case Keenum, Reuben Foster (shudder) and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. But they've subtracted LB Preston Smith ($52M to Packers), slot receiver Jamison Crowder ($28.5M to Jets), cut No. 2 tackler Zach Brown and also, since Week 15 of last season, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and D.J. Swearinger.

Do the Nats need to sign Craig Kimbrel? How's Juan Soto doing in Florida? Oh, leads MLB in spring training in OPS (1.288) with a line of .400/,488/.800. 

Want some golf? Rory McIlroy, having a hot spring, finally gets a win out of it by a shot over 48-yr-old Jim Furyk, the last man to make the field of the richest tournament of the year.

Is Bradley Beal All-NBA?

And more! Send your questions and those sneaky questions-disguised-as-your-analysis! 

Do you agree with Maryland's strategy in tanking the first game of the Big10 tournament against Nebraska so they would be rested up for the NCAA tournament? Because they couldn't possibly play that badly without a good reason, no?

If they had a crystal ball and saw the lucky draw they would get, then maybe it would be brilliance. Of course, they didn't -- so it looks like bad preparation for an important tournament game against an injured, undermanned Nebraska team. They looked awful --not ready-- right from the start. Our game story quoted Turgeon as yelling, "WAKE UP!" at his Terps in the early minutes.

Isn't that the No. 1 job of THE COACH. 

It's hard to believe that somebody with Turgeon's basketball pedigree, and the high-quality coaches who've praised him in the past for his coach (not just recruiting), can really be this lame a game coach. But the pattern keeps repeating.

As I mentioned in the intro, Maryland has a dream draw -- at least it's a dream for a No. 6 seed. If they can't beat the Temple/Belmont winner...well, they better or the whole program will feel the heat. But they will. LSU coach Will Wade has been suspended. You don't want the phrase "caught on FBI wiretap" in the same sentence with your name in news stories on recruiting issues. Also, LSU may be a weak No. 3 seed.

The Terps shouldn't need any more motivation than knowing that if they make the Sweet 16 they'll be playing back in D.C.    

With Robles having a standout spring training, how are the Nats planning to get Michael A. Taylor enough at bats to help the team? Last season clearly showed he does not thrive as a bench player. BTW, thanks for the chats.

Last year in the N.L. the average number of plate appearances for a 4th outfielder was 287. (Where else do you get this kind of bizarre I-worked-it-out-myself info?) The Nats had 4 outfielders with at least 370 at bats. So, Taylor will get playing time, especially against LHers to give Eaton rest because while Eaton can hit and walk against southpaws, he's showed no HR power against them (2 HR in 600 career at bats vs lefties!). It's not a platoon. Eaton is too good for that. And Taylor's career OPS vs LHers is only slightly better than Eaton's --.717 to .696. But Taylor has 15 career homers in 402 at bats vs lefties.

Any time you see Taylor in CF, Robles in RF and Soto in LF against a lefty that is actually the Nats BEST offensive and defensive lineup -- slightly. So, don't be afraid to rest Eaton. After his awful leg injury in '17, I'd like to see him play maybe 130 games, not the 150+ that he'd prefer. Sometimes I think the Nats try to avoid hurting feelings. Eaton has had a GREAT spring. With Taylor hurt, he'll have a chance to get off to a good start. But as the season plays out, if Eaton isn't hitting LHers very well, don't be afraid to play MAT sometimes.

If Taylor actually COULD hit in the regular season as well as he was hitting in Florida, you could consider doing what the Cubs and Dodgers did last year, use their top 4 outfielders a LOT. Cubs had 4 OFers with at least 462 PA and Dodgers had 4 with at least 443. That way (maybe) you could give Robles a few days off against tough RHers.

Here's the truth: if Victor Robles is anywhere near as good as the player I was watching in Florida, then he is going to be in the starting lineup every day that he can stand upright for the next dozen years. I've never seen a world champion prize-fighter, and I covered boxing for us for 10 years, who has a scarier physique when walking around in bermuda shorts than Robles. In all sports, you look for athletes who have features that are disproportionate to their height. For example, the incredible length of Pedro Martinez fingers which helped him get a higher spin rate and manipulate pitches, or Willie Mays ridiculous hands that looked like they belonged on Wes Unseld. Robles has the width of shoulders, relative to his 6-foot height, that you'd expect of a 6-foot-4 NFL linebacker. He hit a 450-foot homer in Miami last year and I thought, "I wonder where THAT power came from?" Now I don't have to guess. Also, he really has a grasp for HIS game. He works walks because he knows he's going to steal a ton of bases (eventually). With two strikes, he goes to the opposite field, often with extra-base power. And when he's ahead in the count, he tries to drive the ball. IOW, just what you are expected to do. Last week, saw him walk, then steal 2nd and 3rd like it was a Little League game. 

In ST, Robles is .351/.468/.541 with two homers in 37 ABs, more walks than K's (8-6) and 6-for-7 in steals. Of course nobody puts up those numbers (except Trout), but it shows how hot he can get and how many bases he can steal, and runs he can score (10) in a small number of plate appearances (47).

Robles has been hit by one pitch this spring. Here is a bar bet question that nobody will get right -- though I don't know how you would phrase the "question."

In 1792 plate appearances as a pro, Robles has been hit by 97 pitches. That is 35 HBP if he had a 650 PA season. That is crazy high -- and worrisome. Soto has been to bat 1,006 times as a pro. He has NEVER been hit by a pitch. Not one.

Robles' attitude as a hitter is like Frank Robinson --take away the whole plate. Soto's approach is like -- well, I don't even know. He hit a fastball on the inside half of the plate about 40 feet over the leftcenter field fence last Thursday (no wind) -- maybe 415 feet. How do you do that? He wasn't "trying" to hit to left. He wasn't "looking away" for the pitch. 

IF Robles stays healthy, I really think he will exceed his ZiPS projections for this (his rookie) year -- which are good anyway: 122 games, 10 homers, 53 RBI, 28 steals, .258/.329/.405.

Soto? I'm just holding my breath.

My short answer: If Robles, Soto and Eaton stay healthy until Taylor comes back in maybe a month, you won't notice he's gone. After that, maybe his new "short-stroke" approach --no stride, hands high-- will make him a slightly better hitter when he does get to play. Don't forget what a quality bat Howie Kendrick still is as a part-time second baseman and leftfielder.       

Anything new to report - and do you really think - barring injury that this is the difference maker in the Nat's contending and actually going past the first round? I may have my rose colored glasses on, but given the 'new' look fundamentally sound team, added speed, etc it seems that they may (and yes that's a big may) not miss Harper too much - maybe only short term?

"Everybody" in the front office and on the team wants the Lerners to go out and sign Kimbrel. They won't say it. Well, they won't say it on the record.

Now for context: EVERYBODY on the Phils and Braves, feel the exact same way! Everybody LOVES to spend the billionaire owner's money. 

People around the Nats think that there is more chance that the Lerners,  who have seen Kimbrel stick it to the Nats 100 times and think of him as a superstar, will go the extra dollar to get Kimbrel in the $60-million range versus the far riskier absolute-dollars danger in a >$300M contract.

I would bet AGAINST it. Not now at least. Why? Because the Nats, like other teams, really value their (compensation) draft picks and international money. BUT after the June draft --after June 4th-- Kimbrel will no longer cost a team any compensation at all -- just money. And then, at the latest, is when you'll see a land rush to grab him.

So, fascinating value proposition: There's little competition for Kimbrel right now because 1) his demands are too high, 2) he looked poor in the 2nd half of '18 and wild in October and 3) he has the Qualifying Offer penalty attached to him. But there will be ENORMOUS competition in June, maybe driving up his price despite missing 10 weeks of the season, because so many teams will want him, including contenders, that have an injured closer between now and then.

As I've said, it's a close call. But I'd spend the money, give up the compensation, and try to sign him right now. Yes, I DO change my mind on this. That $64M x 4 that I made fun of two weeks ago, well, I'd pay it now. Part of the reason is that I've talked to a lot of people in West Palm Beach who think that while Kimbrel would help ANY team, that he is a PERFECT fit for the Nats main need --one more big arm in the pen-- and for their time-frame (a really sane 'window' in '19-'21). 

Ownerships are more likely to go after FAMOUS players because they can say to their friends, "We got CRAIG KIMBREL!!" It's not the same as saying, "WE GOT ADAM OTTAVINO."

While appreciate all that Ryan Zimmerman has done for the Nats for so many years, he now looks as he is overmatched in spring training games, even against lesser pitchers. Really hope he starts off on one of his hot streaks, but a long cold streak seems more likely- just like last year. If he struggles again this year to get started how much patience can the team show? Given the expected tight NL East race, can they wait for him to break out if he falls into one of his long bad streaks? When does platooning with Matt Adams become the best option for the team?

I'm sick of this. When Zimmerman is healthy, he plays. Period. Last year, in half a season (288 at-bats), he had 21 doubles, 13 homers and 51 RBI. Just multiply by two. And he hit in bad luck last year.

In '16, '17 and '18, Z'man was in the Top 2%, Top 1% and Top 1% in "hard-hit-ball percentage." In velocity off the bat, he ranked in the Top 2%, Top 1% and Top 1%.

His BABIP (25 pts above his career BABIP in '17 but 26 pts below his career BABIP in '18) perfectly explains why he hit .303 in '17 and .264 in '18 and a combined .289. At this point in his career, he's a .290 hitter, when healthy, with lots of power, love and knowledge of how to drive in runs. Over the two years combined, his OPS is .892  -- Harper's career OPS is .899.

Will Zim break down? Big question. Over the last 5 years, he's averaged exactly 100 games played per year. That's terrible. But in that time, per 162 games played, he's average 38 doubles, 28 homers and 103 RBI. There are a lot of hard questions in baseball. This is one of the easy ones. OF COURSE, you wouldn't sign him for $18-million in '19 if you had a choice. But the money is spent. So play him --as much as you can-- because he's a really good hitter. (Advanced metrics said he was a pretty decent fielder last year. I don't believe 'em. He made two gruesome plays in one inning the other day. Any throw to any base is a potential live hand grenade -- love the guy, but I don't care what he says/thinks that's just the truth. He's all-in-all a somewhat below average 1st baseman who scoops low throws well (but everybody does these days, has good hands.)  

He's taking it gingerly --8 games, 18 at bats so far. Can he hit when he's healthy --come on, if you watch the games, you know the answer. Can he get on the field? It often takes trainers 80 minutes of working on him to get him ready to play. Other days much less.

It is GREAT to have Matt Adams as a backup. He knows his role. And he can play for months if he must. He can hit, but not as well as Zim. And he can field. But not quite as adequately as Zim. 

This, despite all the talk about Zimmerman, is probably the least of the Nats worries. Last year, in only 600 plate appearances (maybe 75 fewer than a first base duo usually gets) Zim and Adams combined for 31 homers and 99 RBI.

Hitting 5th, with all the good on-base and speed guys ahead of them, I bet they do it again. In what proportions? No idea. But you stick with Zim, with days off for rest, whenever he's healthy and when he isn't, you thank your lucky stars for Big City.


Are any teams interested in Zach Brown and Mason Foster? Also, what are your feelings at this point for our #15 pick?

They cut Zach Brown, their No. 2 tackler, last week to save cap space. I don't care how bad he was covering tight ends, his 96 tackles will be missed. Pro Football Focus graded him as the fourth-best LB in the NFL last year -- which proves that PFF's rankings aren't as good as they presumably think they are.

I still think the Skins should lean toward using the 15th pick on a wide receiver, despite all the haunting noises at the Park -- those echoes of wasted No. 1's Desmond Howard, Michael Westbrook, Rod Gardner and Josh Droptson. As well as No. 2s Devin Thomas and Malcom Kelly. With slotback Jamison Crowder ($28.5M to Jets) gone, "replaced" by a slot back who caught nine passes for 75 yards last year (gutty Trey Quinn), you HAVE to add a WR. 

Lets step back a bit.    

Fan bases go through emotional swings. Sometimes it takes many years for the mood to swing completely. But when it does, it develops its' own momentum, which sometimes loses any connection with reality. Right now, the emotional state of the Skins fan base is the lowest I have ever seen it --even in the '60s when they were awful. Back then, they'd stunk since WWII and nobody expected a cheap team to be any good. We endured and hugged them. From the time Lombardi became the coach in '69, until recent times it was either the Good Old Days or the year-after-year marketing of Dan Snyder's Fake Good Old Days (Bet We Can Fool Ya Again).

Now the Snyder scam is worn out. So even when the Skins make decent moves they don't get credit for it. Welcome to chickens coming home to roost. They deserve it.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to mis-evaluate what they've done. This team doesn't have "tank" in its DNA. It has "Pick the Fans Pockets" in its DNA. It has "Sling The Bull" in its DNA. But lose-on-purpose-for-a-high-pick, no, Snyder's ego is too fragile for that. Even if, with that crystal ball, we could know for sure that tanking would work. (More often than not, in all pro sports, it DOESN'T.)

In their effort to (desperately) avoid being a joke, they've done a good job. Most important, trading for QB Case Keenum, at a tiny cost, was a very solid move for a non-tanking team in the Skins scary spot. He gives them a chance at 8-8. And a much better chance to avoid 3-13. He is who he is. Luckily for him, he's mobile. He'll have plenty of chances to run for his life.

What about the REST of the Skins off-season? I'd say it's either a push, at best, or a net negative. Why? They added an All-Pro safety in Landon Collins who's only 25. As I said last week, they HAD to get better at safety and wide receiver. And they did it at safety --with a player a lot better right now than anybody, they'd have gotten with a 15th-overall pick. That's important because they've lost D.J. Swearinger --who led the team in interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3).

The Skins will presumably have a ticking nightmare in Reuben Foster at linebacker, after he comes back from what (it's assumed) will be a suspension for his domestic abuse issue. When people mention Foster as some kind of "steal," all I can think is that if you "stole" the Mummy (from the movie) and put it in your locker room those same people would say that was a "steal," too. Hey, what could go wrong? Look at the guy's upside -- he unleashes plagues.

Don't forget, just as Collins has to be better than Swearinger (not a great challenge), Foster has to be better than departed Preston Smith who got a $52M/4yr deal with the Packers. Smith was a good player last year, 2nd to Kerrigan in QB hits (16) and 4 sacks. At best, Collins + Foster are a bit better than Swearinger + Smith. At worst...

Skins also lost Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who had more tackles in nine games (66, 56 solo) than Josh Norman did in 16 games (64, 40 solo). Yes, Clinto-Dix is a safety, so he should make more tackles than a DB. But THAT many more.

If Norman is retained and he and Collins are in the same defensive backfield and they are still below average as a group, that's an incredible amount of money to put into two players and still not have a powerful UNIT.

Just looks like a 6-10, 7-9 team. But they are trying to be "watchable." Will Washington settle for that after all these years of "we're just a couple of players away from going back to the Super Bowl."

I still commend them on Keenum and using money on Collins at a position of huge need. Now, draft a WR, then focus on O-line. Yes, they have many needs, but start there.      

Really entertaining article over the weekend by your colleague Jesse Dougherty. You've chronicled the progression of Tanner Roark from trade afterthought to serviceable/workhorse starting pitcher but in this video-everywhere era, how rare is it for a late round position player to come out of relative nowhere to carve out a respectable big league career?

Jake Noll has probably gotten himself a shot at AAA this year or even make himself part of a trade to a team that might see promise in him. That's great for him.

A couple of old Nats, from the bad days, jump to mind. Marlon Byrd was a classy guy who constantly studied the game, especially hitting. He was a 10th rd pick (306th overall) from Georgia Perimeter College. He played 15 years in the majors, two of them with the Nats. He ended up with >1,500 hits and made $40M even though he was traded five times, granted free agency five times and released once.

John Lannan, an unknown 11th-rd pick from Siena College got to start a couple of opening games for the Nats, went 46-58 in 8 yrs in MLB with a decent 4.18 WERA and made $13M. He had NOTHING. But he was lefthanded, had some moxie and a changeup. 

It's rare. Yet there are many. You're more likely to come from "nowhere" and work your way up in baseball, learning skills, than in the NFL or NBA, where raw physical ability is so essential, that's for sure.

The 1st MLB draft was in '65. There were MANY rounds. There was a 5-foot-4 player taken in the 22d round out of Seguin (TX) High School. It took him a few years to make the majors, but (still 5-foot-4) he was a three-time All-Star and once finished 6th for MVP during a really good 14-year career: shortstop Freddie Paatek. 

Boz, Submitting this question early before I forget... Seeing talk (some of it "just for fun" I'm sure) about the Lakers trading LeBron James given the Lakers season and the amount of energy it would take to make the Lakers great again. Obviously such a move would have hughe implications around the league, and generate immense speculation of what kind of return he would get. If you are the Wiz, would John Wall plus a #1 pick allow you to snag LeBron and pair him with Brad Beal over the next two years or so? If so, I like that trade!

LeBron to the Wiz!!!!!

Great try! You gave me my laugh of the day. The NBA will declare bankruptcy and go into receivership before LeBron is a Wizard.

Yes, he he playing extremely well, but high scoring on a lousy team does not, is insufficient evidence. Rex Chapman and Harvey Grant scored like All Stars when they played for the dismal Bullets, but once traded to good teams, they became the fourth option (Grant) or good men off the bench (Chapman). Basketball is a team sport, and the scoring averages for the great players go down when they play on good teams, because they are surrounded by other good players who get their touches, etc. Beal is having the best season of his career and deserves accolades, but their are more than six other guards who are better than him--and thus deserving of all NBA.

I believe that Beal's candidacy to be one of the Top 6 guards in the NBA is MUCH closer than you think. Although I understand why he is easy to mistake for a volume-shooter who scores for a bad team. But he's more than that.

Beal is No. 1 in the NBA in minutes played (37.7) and No. 2 (!!!) in field goals made, behind only James Harden. Only two players have scored more points this season -- Harden and Paul George. A big part of that is Beal's durability. But it still matters as a plus on his side of the ledger.

Beal is also 17th in the league in assists and 11th in steals. Part of that is volume minutes. But he's 16th in steals=per-game.

Beal is 3rd among all guard in ppg at 26.2 behind Harden and Curry, but just ahead of Lillard and Kemba Walker.

The NBA has some pretty advanced metrics now. Beal doesn't show up in the Top 20 in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) which tends to favor big men or Win Shares.

But "the Big One" is VORP --Value Over Replacement Player-- the NBA's equivalent of MLB's WAR.

Of course, VORP gets arguments, too. But it is designed to be an all-around stat, not just a high scorer or big minutes stat. In other words, it shouldn't favor Beal unless he is REALLY good.

Here are the Top Seven guards in the NBA by VORP. IOW, probably the best list, at least statistically, that you'll find.




Kyrie Irving....4.2

Steph Curry....3.9

Ben Simmons....3.7

Bradley Beal....3.4.

Beal is also 18th in the entire NBA in VORP.

I'd say that Beal is right on the edge of All-NBA and that his huge minute load, and being THIRD in the entire league in POINTS while also being in the Top 20 in Steals and Assists, as well as hanging right there in VORP should put him over the top. I'm biased because I see him so much. And his five 40-point games sure are fun.

But if anybody says, "Beal? NO WAY!" because the Wiz are "losers," just hit 'em between the eyes with VORP. He's absolutely in the photo finish.

Is there a "magic number" needed for the Wizards to reach the play-offs? Usually this time of the season there is a number of Wiz wins and ... say... Miami losses. I know every game counts, but....

Unfortunately, with a dozen games left, it is much higher than it appears at first. The Wiz have to pass THREE teams, not just one. They have to pass Charlotte and Orlando, not just Maimi in the 8th spot whom they trail by 3 1/2 games. In all, they are 7 1/2 games behind all three teams combined. (Brooklyn (at .500) isn't going to collapse badly enough to drop out of the playoffs.) 

But don't tell the Wiz. They're not going to get any lottery pick. So why not try. There are lots of different levels of accomplishment. Making the playoffs when it looked like you were (VERY) dead long ago is one of those levels.

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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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