Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 08, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

We've got great topics this week! Everybody has enjoyed the USWNT's victory in the World Cup, even though their win over France — which seems eons ago — was actually the Big Game. My favorite quote after Sunday's 2-0 win over the Netherlands was from (of course) Golden Ball and Golden Boot star Megan Rapinoe, who said of her celebration plans, "I'm 'bout to get a gold tooth, I think." She even pointed to the tooth that might have to go bye-bye. Our Post staff did wonderful work in covering the Cup with Liz Clarke and Steven Goff nailing it time after time from Decines-Charpieu, France and Sally Jenkins firing the cannon — on target — time after time back home. My favorite Sally graph from this morning's column: "So now the gentlemen at U.S. Soccer can explain to a lawsuit mediator — as well as Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ellen DeGeneres, Bette Midler, Ryan Seacrest, most of Congress and all of this team’s other admirers — exactly why these women deserve less in performance bonuses and appearance fees than a men’s team that has never won jack."

Here in D.C., we have a baseball pennant race back at the center of our summer. The Nats have gone 28-11 and now have the THIRD-BEST record in the N.L. after being The Bust of '19 back on May 23 at 19-31 when some wanted to think about breaking 'em up — you know, trade Mad Max and everybody else, then play the next few seasons in sack-cloth uniforms. Hope you enjoyed reading about Scherzer's walk-off that wasn't on Sunday. We should also have time for all the big NBA news on trades and free agent signings. Also, early doings at Wimbledon and thoughts on the All-Star Game — in which no players from the previously-mentioned Hottest Team in MLB will actually play. (Will the Nats remember in October that nobody else on their team — not Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg or Howie Kendrick was worth picking to replace Anthony Rendon and Scherzer when they backed out due to nagging injuries?) You usually take somebody from that team.

So, let's be off and running!

Weeks ago you predicted that the Nats would be 5 games above .500 at the All-Star break. And here they are. But they still don't have a bullpen to go deep in October. Do you agree?

Pretty sure I said "above .500 by the AS Break" in a chat about a month ago. I may have thrown in 46-43 in another column or chat, based on improved play and a weak schedule. But I'm sure I never got to 47-42 with a final 10-2 flourish in a dozen games against some of the worst teams in baseball. 

Note: The Nats HAVE had a pleasing schedule recently. But, all in all, they have not had any easy path in their first 89 games. There are five (awful) teams all on track to lose 94-or-more games this year with four of them headed to 100 loses or much worse. Aside from the Marlins, who play in the same N.L. East division (19 games, 10-3 so far) how many games have the Nationals had against the OTHER four awful teams?

The answer is: Only six. (Three vs Tigers and three vs Royals,) It's the good teams in the A.L. East and A.L. Central that may have fluffed up records because of playing 19 + 19 = 38 games against atrocious teams (O's, Blue Jays in AL East and Royals, Tigers in AL Central).

Back to this prognosticating thing that sports writers can't avoid, even though seeing-the-future does not appear on any job application. (My late father told me, "You write best when you don't write about the future!") I was negative about the Nats when they were bad because that's the correct (and only) take — they stunk and choked getting to 19-31. Especially that embarrassing 0-4 series against the Mets when they looked lost and couldn't even keep the "we're lost" looks off their faces. But I don't think anybody was earlier at spotting the shift in the season-trend toward better play and then toward getting really hot. The goal is not to see the long-range future and predict it like, yes, Nostra-whatever. It's to feel where things are right now, see them clearly, but also sense how they might develop NEXT. And NOT to fall into the dumbest of all analytical traps — simply projecting the recent past into the future and calling it insight.

While we're at it, after the first two loses to the Mets in NYC — I also said that Dave Martinez, despite all the nice, well-deserved things you can say about him, should "probably" be fired because his skill set did not include experience (or even much demonstrated aptitude over his first 200+ games as manager) in the area where the Nats most desperately needed help — building the best possible bullpen — or the least awful bullpen — out of the pieces at hand. IOW, he was given a bad hand in the pen by Rizzo and the Lerners but NO bullpen, especially one with Sean Doolittle closing, should have an ERA over 7.00 (!!!) deep into a season. I said the Lerners could wait until the All-Star break to see if he — or the team — could turn it around. Well, they certainly did. I'll probably mention some more ideas on Martinez — plus and minus — later in the chat, including from some Nats. 

So Rendon and Max both not gonna be there at the All Star game. Does that mean NO Nats at all in Cleveland? I thought MLB required at least one player to be there representing every team.

Max will be there, smiling and giving interviews. But no Nats will be there to play. I was struck by how forcefully both Rendon and Scherzer made the point that the MAIN reason they were using (real) nagging injuries as an excuse not to play was because they were so focused on the possibilities of the Nats season. Max on Sunday: "Our season matters so much more than the All-Star Game."

In this era when over-30 players are supposed to be on no use — or not much — the Nats have one of the most veteran teams I have ever seen. Guess how many Nats (on Sunday) were 30 or older. Seventeen! In no order, here are the ages: 31, 30, 32, 30, 35, 35, 34, 32, 34, 30, 35, 33, 32, 34, 42 and 35. Match 'em up, if you want. This is a go-for-it-now team, especially with a Big Three, a good Game Four starter in Anibal Sanchez, a fine closer and an above-average offense (now that it's healthy) plus a good playoff-suited bench with Kendrick/Dozier, Parra, Adams/Zimmerman, Suzuki/Gomes.

Whether they are right or not, the Nats think that with reasonably good health — which may not be possible with such an elderly team — they can play anybody head-to-head in October: the Braves, Cubs, even the very impressive Dodgers.

The best thing they have going for them is that they caught up to the pack — and are already in a Wild-Card spot — BEFORE the All-Star break. They don't have to come back grinding on every pitch, and playing 50 games in a row as some have recently, because they are scared to death that a few losses throws their season over the cliff. They can BREATHE. Not "breathe easy" but not worry constantly.

The Nats schedule is certainly harder after the break. But I wouldn't call it brutal. More "very interesting." They have lots of games left against the Mets, who make a dumpster fire smell good, and the Phillies, who have major problems — including bone spurs in Jake Arrieta's elbow that will be examined this week to find out if he needs season-ending surgery (as was the case with the same problem as an Oriole in '11). Of course, Arrieta with a 4.67 ERA and a short frustrated fuse — he got in a beanball war with the Mets and Snap Frazier on Sunday — may be something that helps anybody who faces the Phils. When looking ahead, don't just ask "what was this team's preseason expectation?" Ask "Is this team any darn good right NOW?" Playing the Mets and Marlins six times each in the second half looks like an invitation to succeed. Also, 8 with the Phils and 14 with the Braves should be seen as a challenging but welcome OPPORTUNITY. If you aren't good enough to win the division, so be it. If you are, do it. And learn from the testing. Also, after July 31, the Nats will have plenty of games against teams which will, or may be, sellers at the deadline.

(It will be interesting to see if the Mets admit what a mess they are and "sell" even though it's yet another PR blow.)    

(Sorry, couldn't resist the tag). For all that Doolittle has done for the Nats this season he probably deserves an honorary spot in the HOF for unsung saviors of a (nearly) foundering team. I'm sure it's a long list. That aside, it seems to me his last 10 outings or so look more desperate than before — lots of balls, some oppo players seem to have to expect his high fastball and we're seeing lots of hits, doubles, hard-singles — they're figuring him out. A blown save on Sunday at least to a tie, easily forgiven after the offense stormed back in the bottom of the eighth to erase the blot and as so often happens in baseball Doo ended up with the win credit. In the save in his prior appearance he barely escaped a bases-loaded jam and held the win but at 30+ pitches which left him unavailable for several days. I think he has been way overworked and I think is dangerously close to "blowing his arm." Like all the pros he won't ever admit it, but I'm afraid that in the second half his overuse in 2019 Part 1 will come back to haunt the Nats when they need him most — in tight one-on-ones late in the season — they face the Phillies five times in one week in late summer and they won't all be laughers — and the lack of another anchor at the back end will be the anchor that sinks the ship (Kimbrel, again). Thoughts?

I basically agree with you on all those points. Except I'm not certain that he will blow — if he's used properly AFTER the break. I don't think he's toast yet. But, man, he's looking singed around the edges.

Except for one 70-game season, Doolittle has never been especially durable. You are seldom going to see a team that is SO dependent on one reliever to keep their year on track. With him, they can win 85-to-89 games, probably. Without him, I have no idea. Could get very ugly very fast. You can hope for back-end relievers available — I listed them last week here.

There's one thing in Doolittle's favor. He may have the least-used arm of any 32-year-old pitcher you'll ever find. He was drafted in the first round by the A's as a slugging left-handed hitting first baseman. (At UVA, he was a much better power-hitting prospect than Ryan Zimmerman and close to Mark Reynolds (298 career HRs). He pitched some at UVA. But, as a hitter, at 21, he had 22 homers and 91 RBI in the minors in 535 ABs. More important, his TOTAL innings pitched total as a pro when he reached the age of 25 was ONE INNING (in the minors). The theory is that if you make it to age 25 as a pitcher, you may have a long career because almost all pitchers are being used hard from (at least) age 16-or-17 so that by 25 they've had about 10 years of serious pitching in pursuit of a career. Doolittle: One inning.

Also, breaking balls are usually thought to cause the injuries, not lots of fastball usage. Doolittle only throws fastballs.

Nonetheless, his game totals, including minors, during his seasons are 60, 70, 61, 50, 53 and 43 last year before a foot injury ended his season. He's got 39 (!!) already.

So, worry all you want about Doolittle. That's another reason I've been beating up Rizzo and the owners since March about under-staffing the pen or assuming too much wisdom — like their near-certainty that Rosenthal would be an answer.

If you want to be negative — or honest, and Sunday was national "Tell the Truth Day" — the Nats thought that, if necessary, either Joe Ross or Erick Fedde could be switched to relief and be helpful. Neither has looked like a reliever. And Ross gives off an I-don't-wanna-relieve vibe, at least to me.

I mentioned to Zimmerman on Sunday that — just as the Nats "celebrated" national Cabbage Day — it was national Tell The Truth Day on July 7. Obviously not a real national holiday, just one of those goofy ones —but if you Google "Tell the Truth Day" it comes up.

In one of the most Z-man quotes ever, he instantly said, "That's not EVERY day? Why do we have to have a 'day' for that? Sounds like we're goin' in the wrong direction."        

I was at the Friday night game, and it seemed Ryan Zimmerman was gassed and/or in discomfort when running the bases. Now that he's reaching the 1,000 RBI plateau, what do the Nats do with Zimmerman? Does he remain the starting first basement this year? And next year: Obviously the Nats will opt out of the mega contract. But do they offer him a smaller deal to be a bench player? Nudge him into a front office job? Or let him potentially walk to another (presumably AL) team. . . like the one up the BW Parkway?

Whatever happens, I'd say it's 98 percent he ends up his career as a Nat, not going somewhere else for one last fling.

His old shoulder injury has healed over the years. That's why he can still hit — his OPS in his last 1,007 plate appearances ('17-'19) is .873. Harper's career OPS is .894. In this time frame, Zim has 52 homers, 172 RBI. The Nats are lucky to have Matt Adams, too — in '17-'19 he's had 882 PA with 54 HR and 158 RBI. Slash .252/.306/.504 to Zim's /284/.347/.526.

There's room on this team for Zim, Adams, Dozier and Kendrick. You just have to figure out how to use them. But it's a good problem because all are team-first guys. Howie is 35 and, after last year, has to be considered breakable. Adams tends to fade if used too much. Dozier can use some days off, although he'd never say that — even to himself. He'd play 163-a-year if they'd let him. 

Zim's only real physical problem (aside from his throwing motion which had to change to accommodate his multiple shoulder surgeries) is his heel. That what, I assume, is going to end his career even though he can still hit. He'd looked pretty good for two games BEFORE his three,-double game on Friday night, complete with those two ridiculous/heroic head-first slides. Looks to me like he's ready for one of his hot streaks. But can he still run the bases, even by slow-old-guy standards? Should he just play against lefties — whom he has always KILLED.

Martinez/Nats say he is still their starting first baseman. That isn't the $18M contract talking, I don't think. They just see him as a thoroughbred, albeit a battered one, who should be part of this one final run in his era, and as the guy you "want to lose with" if you're gonna lose in October.

It's good that he's trying to play. Don't know how long that will last. He's clearly not going to play cautiously. He never has, why start now!? So, he may blow out again and answer all the questions — in a sad way. As I've said before, when he is healthy, he hits — he ALWAYS hits. Last year, he was also written off. He came back from the IL in July. From July 24 through late September, in 175 PA, he slashed .316/.387/.587 for an huge .976 OPS. That guy does NOT sit when he's able to play so that a .250 all-or-nothing Adams can get those at-bats. As for running the bases and fielding, they're both about the same at this point: No comment.

I've wondered if Zim has a future as a low-price bench bat for the '20 Nats. VERY low price. Right now, it doesn't look like it to me. But folks who want to rush this guy off the stage have it all wrong. Get the last drop out of him. As you saw Friday, he can still hit. (But, OMG, everything else is just too much of a challenge for his body. Who wants to see more of that?) 

We have to because Bryce will always be that ex-gf, you're "totally over" but keep tabs on. Heading into the AS Break: Eaton - .368 OBP, .750 OPS, .326 BABIP, 1.2 fWAR Harper - .369 OBP, .840 OPS, .319 BABIP, 2.0 fWAR. Eaton's only anomaly is that he's 40 points below his career slugging percentage. Bryce is down across the board, except his strikeouts are up 5 percent. Something to ponder, what if Bryce already had his prime?

As a No. 2 hitter, all you care about with Eaton is his OBP (.368 now and .364 career), his base running and fielding.  After his injury, he's never been the same defender. Fine arm.  A smart, efficient base-runner, but overall average because so many top-of-the-order hitters are SO fast.

Eaton costs almost nothing for a pretty good player ($8.4M). The difference between that and what Harper makes ($25.4) is almost enough to pay Rendon's whole salary this year. As Zim once said (about another useful but not superstar Nat player), "You can't have a star making $200M at EVERY position on your team. Are people crazy? Appreciate the GOOD players, too. To have a really good team, you need a whole bunch of GOOD players — like him." (Again, Zim wasn't talking about Eaton, but another Nat from the past who was always knocked for only being good.)  

It's illogical to compare Eaton to Harper. The comparison is the team you'd have — the whole team — if you'd (somehow) signed Harper vs. the team you have now without him, in which Eaton is just a useful secondary part. I'd guess Harper will trend back up in the second half. The shock is that this year is so much like last year for him and NOBODY thought his '18 performance was the baseline for his age 26-through-30 seasons. The assumption (for everybody) is that, after 30-31-32, he'll decline. 

If the Nats had signed Harper, the total team would be much different because the Nats budget — already one of the highest — would not have accommodated Bryce PLUS all the players they added over the winter. If, big hypothetical, Harper/Boras had gotten back to the Nats last October and worked out a $300M/10-year deal (with not too much deferred) before he became free in November, there's no way they'd have had the budget room to go after Corbin. The rotation would be Max, Stras, Sanchez, X and Y. Oh, brother. They'd have had less or equal $$ to put into the bullpen. Could they have afforded both Suzuki and Gomes, making sure they had them both in '20, too? They'd probably have used Difo as a regular second baseman and not paid Dozier. It could have been a cascade mess of a season by now. But, in D.C., maybe Bryce would be having a better '19 — that homey, appreciated feeling, based on gratitude for past deeds.

I'd say, "Wait two more years" to make brave "evaluations of Bryce." The winter after his '15 MVP season he wore himself out being Bryce on the Big Stage. And had a poor '16. The Free Agency Frenzy, that he loves, may have had a similar one-year impact and he'll be back with a vengeance in '20.

But his swing-and-miss, and K-rate stats are a worrisome long-term issue.

 

In watching a replay of Bryce Harper's 200th home run/1,000th career hit as the Phillies were playing the Braves in Atlanta last week it appeared that, as he headed toward second base, Harper was waving to the Braves' left fielder to retrieve the ball from the fans. Not to belittle the accomplishment but it seemed curious to see Harper himself, rather than his own teammates/clubhouse/the home team's staff, be that focused on obtaining control over a baseball associated with an impressive but not HOF-worthy accomplishment. Do you have any sense of how Harper's 'I'm-the-brand centric' personality and somewhat pedestrian performance to date has fit in the Phillies' clubhouse?

The Phils were also losing at the time. There are lots of good things to say about Bryce and I've said dozens of them. There were entire seasons in D.C. where he was just So Much Fun.

But, over time, he hasn't changed much. After you get the $330M, isn't it time to trim back the constant look-at-me self-branding? Especially when you aren't yet living up to the deal? When I saw that clip I have to admit that I thought, "What if Washington fans had had to watch THAT act for the next 10 years? Or 13?"

I thought it would be hard to move on from him. Everybody uses the old girlfriend/boyfriend line. But in the last few weeks, with Gerardo Parra's ridiculous walk-up Baby Shark song and the Home Run Dance Line, as well as the Nats riding Scherzer non-stop after his Walk-Off-That-Wasn't on Sunday, it's getting easier to see this as a team with a new personality and an appealing one.

Tom, what do you think about the way Nats have been handling Anthony Rendon’s pending free agency? It seems like the front office was much more strategic in the way they approached Bryce Harper’s free agency than Rendon’s. As you pointed out at the time, they traded for Adam Eaton two years before Harper’s walk year to provide a “Plan B” in right field in the event they were unable to come to terms with Harper. There appears to be no similar backup plan in place for Rendon, and it makes one wonder -- why not? Have the Nats been overconfident of their ability to extend Rendon, or reluctant to trade for a future replacement ahead of need because they are short of trade pieces, or for fear of sending the wrong message to Rendon? Rendon is probably a more valuable piece than Harper was, and if he isn’t extended before he hits free agency at the end of the season, it’s more than likely he’ll play somewhere else in 2020. How bad would it be for the Nats to lose two homegrown talents in consecutive years who comprised one of the most potent left-right, middle-of-the-order batting combinations in the game? It’s encouraging that Ted Lerner and Scott Boras met in Washington this weekend. Perhaps things are finally moving forward. We can only hope it’s not too little too late.

I talked to our excellent beat writer Jesse Dougherty on Sunday and he was funny talking about being on the press elevator and suddenly seeing Ted and Scott walk on together!

100 percent  of the angst to date about this has been a waste.

I've been a soccer fan since living in London early '70s and playing for the U.S. Navy in an industrial league. I'd argue that women's soccer is now vastly more entertaining than men's soccer (not then because it didn't exist), not just because the U.S. women's team is so dominant. I think the women's game is more finesse, technical, strategic and the players are relatively more skillful, quick, fast and interesting. Perhaps it's just this improbably magnificent collection of wonderful athletes. Thoughts?

I've enjoyed women's soccer, especially in World Cup and Olympics, more than men's soccer over the years. Of course, a big part of that is just that I've been rooting for them to win for almost 30 years — and they've come through so often — that it builds up a warm connection and provides a lot of enjoyment. I still remember what a kick it was to meet Mia Hamm for the first time. (But then I was pretty psyched about covering Johan Cruyff when he played for the Washington Diplomats, too!)

The subject you raise in your question applies to many sports. I was one of the Post's main writers on tennis for more than 10 years, covered almost every D.C. event, men's or women's, as well as about a dozen U.S. Opens, starting with Orantes' win in '75, and did Wimbledon a couple of times. I enjoyed the men, especially from the McEnroe, Connors, Nastase, Lendl, Becker era. But I enjoyed the women, and got to know them better, than the men. What an era with Billie Jean, Evert and Navratilova, whom I first interviewed (along with Neil Amdur, NYT) the day she defected when she was (I think) 16. Then Graf and so many others on up to Serena vs. Venus Williams in the Finals in '01. I think that was the last Open I covered. (Good Lord, that's 25 years.) The women in tennis were, as a group, smarter, more civil to each other as competitors and more conscious of societal issues raised by their sport than the men in those sports. It's as if they hadn't caught any of the Money Diseases that had already contaminated men's sports for so long. They wanted to get paid (fairly), and they knew they were part of the woman's rights fight — that was already making progress after the passage of Title IX. But the Colossal Jerk Percentage has always been MUCH lower among women athletes (JMHO) — not just in pro tennis but in high level women's swimming, gymnastics, golf, basketball and even bowling where the great HOFer Patty Costello (a D.C. local back then) and I were buddies. What we're seeing with this USWNT in soccer has been going on, in different forms, for more than 40 years. WHAT TAKES SO DAMN LONG?

Oh, sorry. I forgot. The men got there first, in every sport, put down their roots, had things their way for decades and were always threatened by women who said, "We're here now, too. Our sports are just as valid as yours."

It's just sad to think that when I went around the country in the late '70's, '80's and into the '90's doing stories on Olympic speed skaters (both men and women grossly underfunded), a startup women's pro basketball league or (what I saw as) child abuse in the way young women gymnasts were trained, that so little would change in a 40-year period. Or, with some of the scandals, things seem to have gotten much worse — or finally were dragged into the open.

When you want to find rot, the first place to look is usually anything that's connected to the Olympics, the U.S. Olympics or "international sports bodies" which are often run by the scum of the sport's earth. 

Anyhow, I try to be grateful for what progress has been made, hard as it sometimes is to see. My son is 32. The experience of his generation in sports --for both boys and girls growing up-- was just entirely different, and far better, than mine and my wife's. The idea of not respecting women as athletes just doesn't seem to exist in his generation --or not much. But the folks who sometimes run things are, unfortunately, still the dregs of my generation. 

I grew up on Ali, Bill Russell, Frank Robinson and many other athletes who took personal, and very public stands on general issues in society that crossed over into sports. I viewed that as the norm — remember Ali's issues with the draft were more than 55 years ago. I don't think that push ever stops. Rapinoe, Morgan, Naeher and Co. have added another very important chapter. Every decade the sense of freedom, of the ability to express yourself in any way you want (or not to express yourself if that's your personality), seems to increase. It shows in little ways, like Alex Morgan sipping tea! (Loved it.) Or Rapinoe joking about getting a "gold tooth" which should go nicely with her semi-purple hair.

Sorry for the free association response to what was such an open-ended question! I guess I'll just leave it at: We agree. This World Cup has been a ball. And a significant step forward in several ways.  

I can only understand the Clippers' deal (five first-round picks) for Leonard and George as a short-term vanity project readily available to a multi-billionaire. With Golden State blown up, the Clipper path to the finals looks feasible for the next several years. What would you think as a Clippers fan of a multi-billionaire's desire for championship hardware at the expense of long-term stability and years and years of rebuilding after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have moved on? Or does he just throw tons of cash at the luxury tax, too? The sums of money involved are pretty amazing when a player like Leonard leaves ~ $45 million on the table.

Ballmer seems to enjoy his team as much as any owner in any sport ever has. In a few years, this Go For It episode may not look so smart, especially with ALL those (five first-round) draft picks spent.

BUT what the Clippers have done has been fairly complex and has taken several years. Maybe the Wiz ought to analyze how you transition from a three-star core that isn't quite good enough to get where you want to go into an entirely different team by using trades of stars-for-picks, then packaging those picks for a big trade (Paul George) to pair with a big FA signing (Kawhi Leonard).

 

The patriots who founded this country took enormous risks and made great sacrifices to create the country we have today. For Nike to cancel a tribute shoe to those courageous patriots who pulled 13 colonies together under a red, white and blue flag with 13 stars in a circle showing the unity of those former colonies to be an independent country is an insult to them. Athletes should refuse to wear any apparel from a cowardly company that disrespects the people who made this great country possible. There is no product with a swoosh in my house and they will never see a dollar of my money. For those athletes who sponsor their products, I will not buy other products they sponsor. We had a president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation only because those patriots made us an independent nation.

You don't give a hoot about what happened in 1776.

 

With the Nats wearing Expos "Throwback" uniforms, why don't they roll out Washington Senators Throwback uniforms? I have yet to meet a single Nats fan who cares about the Expos, with so many more interested in the Senators, who played in Washington, D.C., not Montreal, Canada!

I agree with you.

But they did such a nice job of it, and plenty of people with  Expo connections enjoyed it, that I've not only forgiven 'em but vowed not to go into detail about why I've always thought those uniforms are so ugly.

What's the word coming out of that meeting? Allowing Rendon to enter free agency would be a huge mistake for this team.

The HORRIBLE start to the season threw a wrench into any normal assumptions about how discussions would proceed or what timetable they would happen on. Suddenly, completely unexpected questions arose — not just the standard will-the-manager-be-fired stuff, but will the season be so awful that Scherzer and others will be traded, Strasburg might consider opting out of his contact after '19 and. . . all of a sudden, if you are Rendon, you think something like, "Let's wait for this bomb blast to subside and see where we are. Then we can talk, if that looks like what we should do."

Well, now we know that the season's been saved. Nobody's going to be traded. The Nats will be buyers. Stras will have no reason to opt out with $100M/4 years still left on his deal. Rendon looks like he's having a ball in the dugout celebrating every home run. And, unlike Harper, who never left his feet once in the entire '18 season to go after a ball in the OF, Rendon is busting it to play every day through small injuries. Also, the Nats will have a LOT of room under the luxury tax to extend Rendon AND add pieces to the team because so much $$ is falling off the table.

A few days ago I put all of this together in my mind as the Nats found themselves in a Wild-Card spot. I thought, "Well, it's about time for the Lerners and Boras/Rendon to start talking and maybe get serious. It was senseless to do it before. But now would be a good time."

Then we find out, thanks to Jesse, that Ted and Scott are riding down the elevator at Nats Park together a couple of days ago. Seems like everybody is handling this just about like they should. Everybody, just relax. This is a natural friendly fit. Doesn't mean it'll all work out. Rendon is wonderful and deserves a big deal. From talking to various Nats, they think that existing deals for various players, including current Nats, give a good ballpark range for any Rendon negotiations. This is not a situation that should make everybody, or anybody, act crazy. But the bad start has set back the timetable. That doesn't have to be a problem. I'd say, "Calm down and let 'em work on it." 

First of all, congratulations to women's U.S. soccer. It got me to wonder why men's soccer is not nearly as successful. After all, the men have a large pool of talented athletes to draw from in this big country just as the women do. Then I remembered the 2014 World Cup match the U.S. men played against Belgium. You may remember that it was the game where the U.S. goalie played out of this world in a losing effort. Belgium had so many shots on goal because they were dominating. But why? That country is so much smaller than the U.S. Their talent pool couldn't be as large, but their team was clearly better. Then it hit me. The best male athletes in European countries mostly play soccer. The best male athletes in our country play football, baseball or basketball. U.S. men's soccer gets what's left after those three sports get theirs. On the women's side there's no football to poach good female athletes, and women's basketball or softball aren't significantly more popular to young U.S. girls than soccer, so soccer doesn't face the same competition for good athletes. Do you agree?

Interesting points. Any sophisticated analysis of soccer should be left to others. But, for those returning to the chat next week, maybe your thoughts — your INFORMED thoughts on this subject — would be better than what I could provide on developmental soccer in the U.S.

FWIW, I find this interesting: Victor Robles, 2019 to date: .246/.320/.443, .763 OPS, 94 OPS+ Bryce Harper, 2019 to date: .253/.370/.470, .839 OPS, 117 OPS+ Factor in defense and their WAR ratings via Baseball Reference: Robles: 1.9 Harper: 1.4.

Never trust WAR too much! But interesting.

I've had chatters and folks who email me ask "What the heck goes into WAR." Especially FanGraphs WAR, which gets so much play on MLB TV and other places. So, I studied up. Don't have time for the Full Monty today. But, after accounting for league, season and ballpark factors — which don't usually amount to a lot — FanGraphs WAR for players is mostly wOBA. Plus their guesstimates at defensive value based on the Baseball Info Solutions Data (BIS). FanGraphs WAR for pitchers is mostly FIP. Nothing else, really. They would say, "Oh, no, look at these other factors."

wOBA is a very good number. I like it. The BIS data, and methods for gathering it, sound so convincing, but then I look at the numbers they produce and think, "Man, that's not what I'm seeing in plenty of cases — not most cases, but an annoying number — and it is not what MLB players themselves are telling me when they evaluate the defense of other players."

Using FIP as your core input for WAR, then giving AWARDS — like CYA — based on this WAR is a very interesting problem. But it IS a problem (to me). The ONLY factors in FIP are those outcomes which are in the control of the pitcher — home runs, K, BB and HBP. Nothing else. IOW, you are creating a stat for what SHOULD have happened to this pitcher, in an ideal world where luck on batted balls (BABIP), team defense, sequencing of events, etc., is equal for everybody. 

This is a great analytical tool. We know ERA can misrepresent a pitcher's performance. So, FIP gives us a counterbalance of what should have happened under standardized conditions.

But do we really want to give CYAs based on what SHOULD have happened? Don't you give one-season awards based on what DID happen? Who cares if one pitch "should" have had a 1.90 ERA, but actually ended up at 2.40 because of bad luck (etc.) and the other guy "should" have had a 2.40 ERA but ended up at 1.90 because every break and great defensive play went his way. 

Last year, this WAR dependence of FIP wasn't a problem in the NL CYA. DeGrom had a great ERA (1.70) and an almost as great FIP (1.99) while Scherzer had an excellent ERA (2.53) and similar FIP (2.65). So deGrom had a big edge in WAR — 9.0 to 7.4 — and deservedly got the CYA.

This year could get weird. Ryu has an amazing 1.73 ERA which, like deGrom last year, could push him toward a CYA because it is better than Max's excellent but not "sublime" 2.30 ERA. However, FIP tells us that Ryu has been incredibly lucky — his FIP is only 2.88 — while Max has ben slightly unlucky — his FIP is a fabulous 2.00.

FanGraphs' WAR is screaming, "It's Max in a landslide." But what will votes decide if, in the REAL world, Ryu has a significantly lower (even if lucky) ERA and a better W-L record because he played with a 100+ win team with a fine bullpen while Max has a higher (unlucky) ERA and a lesser W-L record because he played for an 86-win team with an awful bullpen?

WAR carries a lot of weight these days. That should be good for Max this year. But the question remains: Don't you give a CYA based on what actually happened — the runs that REALLY scored — not what "should" have happened (FIP)?

Who says only the Eternal Questions are insoluble? Sometimes the trivial ones that we dream up in our games end up that way, too.

If Rendon and Scherzer can’t be bothered to go, at least they should come up with a memorable quote, a la Gary Templeton. At least he was honest. I feel I wasted votes on Rendon.

"If I ain't starting, I ain't departing."

Thanks for the Jump Steady memories.

This has a chance to be ANOTHER ASG that shows that MLB hasn't figured out how to do ASGs. Washington was lucky that, last year, there was a first-rate contingent of stars and the Home Run Derby was a huge success with. . . yes, that's right. . . that charismatic Bryce Harper!

Both Rendon and Scherzer came out and said that since the ASG didn't decide which league had home-field advantage in the World Series, then, in effect, who cares?

Last year it was fun to see 10 home runs hit, breaking the old ASG record of six. And the 8-6 score in 10 innings (AL win) wasn't ridiculous. But with this even-more-jacked-up '19 rabbit ball, I hope the final score isn't 14-13 with 15 home runs.

As of a couple of days ago, the AVERAGE MLB team will hit 221 home runs this season. This has to stop. Lower the mound from 10" to 5" to help hitters. How much would it help? Try it and find out. Get a new ball manufacturer — to help pitchers. Or get two new manufacturers and make them compete for future contracts by seeing which of them produces balls which come closest to meeting MLB's specs and expectations — perhaps as measured in spring training. 

That's it for this week. There were certainly enough subjects for much more. That why we'll do this AGAIN next week. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks again for all your sharp questions/analysis. Cheers.

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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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