Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Aug 19, 2019

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

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We have several interesting topics for a sweltering DC summer day. So why not just stay inside and chat here! 

The home run explosion of '19 has given us a somewhat warped version of the sport. That's bad. But one of the teams that has used this high offense period to its advantage is the Nationals. 

Since May 23rd, they are not only red hot in the W-L columns (48-25) they are also THE HIGHEST scoring team in the N.L. at 5.81 runs-a-game. And they are third-highest in MLB, behind only the Yanks (6.32 runs) and Red Sox (6.13). 

We'll take a look at the players who are driving this Nats binge which produced games in the last week with 17, 14 and 16 runs --including an 8-homer game on Sunday. See our Sports front page with "Eight Ways to Sunday" and art on all 8 homers. 

We also had a Skins exhibition game last Thursday which worried me a bit about Dwayne Haskins accuracy as a passer. His stats were better than in his 1st game, but I was considerably less impressed. He threw a nice 55-yard TD bomb under pressure to a fairly-open receiver. But he missed several open receivers badly. Guys who were open by two or three yards for BIG gains. 

Some overthrown, some underthrown. We'll need to see a lot more of him. But he certainly doesn't look ready for regular season play when defenses will blitz him a lot more than they are now. He doesn't see what's coming very quickly or react to it well. While he can sometimes scramble decently going straight ahead, he's still a sitting-duck target when he sets up on his X in the pocket. 

With McCoy's leg STILL not right --after nine months and four surgeries (what's up with THAT?)-- get ready for Case Keenum. He deserves the starting job and will certainly get it. 

Let's also look at Davey Martinez continued poor handling of the bullpen and Sean Doolittle to the IL. 

Also, Steph Curry brings golf team to Howard. 

And the Braves manager yanks young star Ronald Acuna in mid-game for not hustling and hot-dogging (admiring a 'home run' that he turned into a single when it hit the wall. 

Let's look at the whole shape of the N.L. East division race --including the impact that "innings limits" may have on the Braves best two young pitchers, Soroka and Fried, who make have to be used less in Sept to protect their arms and development.

I know the weather this weekend helped but you can't tell me the ball isn't juiced. This hurts the game. Home runs shouldn't be so cheap.

You are absolutely correct.

There's no question the ball is juiced. Everybody on the field knows it. And factors it into everything they do.

I talked to one Nats pitcher on Sunday after we'd watched 12 homers in one game. He mentioned that, in his opinion, one of the under-discussed aspects of the problem was that er (Rawlings). 

This isn't: We got a batch of 'bad balls' this year so we're going to investigate the specs or maybe change companies. This is a company owned by MLB making the hyped balls, at least as I understand it. Maybe it's still a mistake --they just did a poor job of making them this year. But I'm always suspicious in these seasons where there are huge HR jumps.

This year, there are 2.81 HR per game, up 22.4% from '18 and up a less dramatic 11.9% from '17.

The average game now has 9.72 runs --that's too much. The long-term norm, and the ideal, imo, is 9.00-to-9.20. Something in that range. When you get close to 10 runs-a-game the sport feels warped. 

Back in the PED era, MLB had 10.28 runs a game in '00. (I haven't looked up some of the other years. I think '00 was the max for runs, but I'll check later.) 

In '00, the run-scoring came in a greater variety of ways --not just homers. In '00, they scored all those runs while "only" hitting 2.38 HR a game. That's 20% lower than this season.

The game is still fun. It hasn't been "ruined." But this is a big problem that needs to be addressed. There are plenty of runs WITHOUT using a joke ball. 

When you combine the current ball with a joke park --like the latest (awful) version of Yankee Stadium where the RF porch is at least 10-to-15 feet too short, you can get ridiculous HR totals and (to me) a debased form of the game. NEVER thought Yankee Stadium would be a symbol of The Worst in MLB. 

This thing with Fresno isn't working out, obviously. Could the Nats set up an affiliate in Greenland?

Sure, why not?

How much can Greenland cost? You probably don't even have to show your tax returns to qualify for a loan to buy the place.

Although I thought your column today was right on target, I do want to question one thing. You said GM Mike Rizzo is "involved to some degree with everything." Isn't he more involved than that regarding the use/status of players -- or shouldn't he be? He must meet or talk with Davey Martinez several times during the day, both before and after games. While he shouldn't micro-manage the daily lineup, doesn't he have the authority to say to Davey, "Hey, we have other guys who can close. Use them."

They talk about everything. But Rizzo still likes to leave in-game decisions in real-time to the manager --as he should. BUT this month, after adding relievers, he and Davey should have been on the same page about looking for every opportunity to give Doolittle a lighter load. 

And turning over three-run save situations --three times in 9 days-- to Hudson, Strickland and/or Rodney was the perfect opportunity.

Would Doolittle still be active and pitching well if he hadn't had those three awful outings --10 runs, five homers, 13 hits while getting only 6 outs. 

You can't prove it. 

But things sure didn't work out the way the Nats handled it with Doolittle pitching in EVERY closer situation despite having the heaviest workload of his career during this season.

With the home run barrage yesterday showing how juiced the balls are, how do you measure/evaluate power hitters relative to the rest of the league and the past? Is 40 home runs, the old 30, 30 the old 20?

You're correct in your assumption that we have to increase our mental measuring stick to account for "this era."

To get a sense of what is normal, or at least normal in recent years, here are the slash lines --Avg/On-base-%/Slug-- for '16 and '19. You can see that it's the same game, except for "SLUG AVG."

'16: .255/.322/.417 for an OPS of .739.

'19: .254/.324/.438 for an OPS of .761.

So, if you want to subtract 20-to-25 pts from every OPS that might "correct" enough to give sensible comparisons.

Even with such an adjustment to stats this year, the entire Nats lineup has just been demolishing the ball since they all got healthy-and-hot together in May. Here are their hots streaks, with the date when each got rolling. This puts them in their best stat light. So add your own grain of salt. (But not much.)

Note: Anthony Rendon (1.001 OPS for '19) has been torrid all season. Kurt Suzuki has hit well, especially w RISP all season. But others have picked it up a TON as the team got its best lineup back together, then got hot.

Juan Soto (from May 17): 79 games, 22 homers, 59 RBI, 56 walks. Slash: .311/.429/.612 for 1.032 OPS

Brian Dozier (since May 17): 230 ABs, 14 homers, 38 RBI. Slash: .265/.363/.522 for OPS of .885.

Adam Eaton (since May 22): 70 games, 57 runs, 29 XBH, Slash: .294/.383/.426 for OPS of .878.

Trea Turner (since May 28): 69 games, 56 runs, 33 XBH, 20-for-24 steals, Slash of .304/.371/.498 for OPS .869.

Matt Adams (since May 24): 185 at-bats, 16 homers (!), 39 RBI, Slash of .243/.303/.535 for OPS of .839.

To show just how much the Nats have been scoring --and this is a team with a potential Oct rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and ASanchez-- the Nats since May 23rd are in the Top Eight offensive teams in MLB.

Yanks: 6.32 runs-a-game

Red Sox: 6.13 runs.

Nats: 5.81 runs.

Minnesota (playing a very weak sked) 5.77 runs.

Dodgers: 5.74.

Atlanta: 5.68.

Astros: 5.61.

Colorado: 5.45.

This kind of scoring, plus the Nats balance of HR and speed, as well as the rotation, is the reason that every analyst keeps coming back to the same point: How good would the Nats be, especially in Oct, if they ever got their ridiculous bullpen fixed?

Even after recent modest improvements, the Nats still have the second WORST bullpen ERA in MLB --6.09. The only team worse is the unspeakable Orioles (6.19). The gap between the Nats and the 28th-ranked bullpen is HUGE: Colorado and the Mets are tied at 5.17.

So, the Nats still have one of the worst pens of the last 50 years. 

If Doolittle comes back OK after 10 days of rest, then that should improve significantly by the time the Nats start playing their 7 remaining head-to-head games with the Braves. (But I've said that about 'bullpen improvement coming' before and I was wrong.)

With Rendon heading towards free agency should the Nats start trying to lock up Soto now the way the Braves already gave extensions to two of their young stars last year? And if they should, will they?

They should --if they can.

I see no signs that they have tried. What more dos Soto have to show you before you invest in him? 

Because of injuries due to his style of play, there may still be questions about Victor Robles. But I WOULD take the plunge with him --at the right price. I think he's close to turning the corner from "good young player who is developing" to "young star." Once he emerges, the prices goes very high. 

It's unusual to try to lock up players THIS young --at 20 and 22. But the time to consider it seriously is coming in a hurry.

At the risk of counting chickens, please rank, in decreasing order, who we are most likely to see play in October: Scherzer Doolittle Zimmerman Holland

You may see Zimmerman back up with the Nats THIS week. He got 2 or 3 hits on Sunday playing in a rehab assignment n AA. I'll have to "see it to believe it" for Holland to have a meaningful role this year. BTW, this is a long shot, but Aaron Barrett has 26 saves and a ~2.50 ERA in the minors, working his way back after all his terrible arm injuries. 

Is there really a leg problem or is that just cover for getting the guy a bunch of necessary rest because Davey finally recognizes he’s been overusing Doo to bail out the bullpen all season? And, if they don’t get past the first round, is Davey gone?

Doolittle has had a wrap/bandage on his knee recently. It's real --and a problem for him over his career. It inhibits his ability to drive the ball toward the plate. ANOTHER reason why his usage should have been limited whenever possible as soon as the other relievers arrived July 31st and immediately started pitching very well. 

The Nat's have been so cautious with Max, making sure, he was 100% before they put him back in "live action." Yet Doolittle has been over worked and struggling for a few weeks and yet Davey keeps rolling him out there. Was he waiting for his arm to fall off?

Actually, when Max was being all dramatic and heroic, pitching right after he broke his nose and then pitching within 36 hours or so of the birth of a new child --and we were all cheering (including me)-- he was basically "managing himself." Pushing himself to his limit at age 35. 

Did that contribute to his back problems? Don't know. But the Nats certainly --with 20-20 hindsight-- were not careful enough when bringing him back from his 1st IL trip at the All-Star break. 

He came back, pitch 5 innings and has now ended up going more than a month before his NEXT start. The 2 IL trips are injuries with different medical descriptions, but they are both in the same general area of the back. 

So, Max and the Nats got smart AFTER they got smacked in the head. 

Over the past few weeks, news broke that thee Redskins and their medical staff have yet another issue with slow recovery of Colt McCoy's broken fibula. Doctors operated hoping to cut the healing time to a few weeks, yet 9 months later, McCoy is still having issues and is being held out of action. This case adds to the Trent Williams and Su'a Cravens cases. Why does it seem any time a Redskins player gets hurt their recovery time is much longer than it should be? Why can't Snyder and Allen see they need to re-evaluate their medical staff and how they operate?

Good questions.

Bad franchises, in all sports, tend to be consistently bad at every level.

Dim or stubborn or "don't bring me bad news" usually starts at the top. 

I chalked up the rash of injuries the past two seasons to very bad luck. It's a contact sport, stuff happens. But having read allegations of the team's medical mismanagement, the Trent Williams beef, an apparent botched surgery for Colt McCoy - it seems impossible to dismiss this as anything other than a real concern. I'm not sure how it works, if players have the option to pursue their own surgeons, doctors for independent diagnosis, ect. So I was wondering if you had any insight on that process and if this is another example of franchise malpractice, so to speak?

Long, long ago, I asked Jim Palmer, the HOF pitcher for the Orioles, why he would fly to California to consult his own doctor/surgeon (Dr. Jobe, I think) every time he had an arm problem, regardless of what the O's team doctors told him.

Palmer looked at me like I was a young rube and said, "Because it's the TEAM doctor."

In all sports, the TEAM doctor always has a built-in conflict of interest. Thee TEAM wants those athletes BACK ON THE FIELD ASAP because they are being PAID. Plenty of doctors handle that tough situation very well, very professionally.

But some don't. In all sports, this is ALWAYS a case of: "Athlete, BEWARE!"

Are you frustrated when anonymous Twitter accounts masquerade that as Nationals fans, but do little except attack the team, the manager and the ownership? Do you think some of them are fans of other teams just trolling?

Sure, it's annoying. But who cares (really)?

It's the damage that's done to our politics by all the abuses of social media that is a MAJOR issue.

How legit is it compare records over the ages with so many variables: steroids, juiced baseballs, different height pitching mounds, expansion teams etc..

It's fun to compare. But it's also difficult --and has gotten more so in the last 25 years.

But in every season and in every era, somebody wins the most games. And somebody wins the World Series.

So I don't stay awake nights grieving over the difficulty of comparing Mike Trout and Ty Cobb. It's just another sports debate that is fascinating and keeps us interested.

BTW, Soto just became the third player to hit 50 homers before his 21st birthday. The other two are Mel Ott and (I think) Tony Conigliaro --the 52nd anniversary of his beaning (in the left eye) was on Sunday. Harper had 42.

I was in college in Mass when Tony C was hit. I don't know if baseball has a much sadder story. Conigliaro, who was from nearby Swampscott, Mass, came back with impaired vision and still hit 36 homers with 116 RBI three years later in '70 at age 25. But his vision deteriorated and he had to retire. He became a broadcaster. But, in '82, he had a heart attack, then shortly afterward, a stroke which left him in a coma. He died when he was 44. Ted Williams said, "I saw him play...If he'd played out (a full) career, I think he would have been one of the greatest home run hitters."

Boz, your piece today on Martinez mishandling Doolittle seemed spot on to me. He has been frustrating with the bullpen since he started as manager, and it has burned the team as a whole as well as Scherzer and Dolittle personally. As a result I've been pretty harsh on Martinez, and was definitely in the "lets be actively looking for someone else" camp for some time. However, I'm curious about what you think the cause is for the Nats incredible morale this season. They have seemed legitimately happy to be playing, totally confident in their own ability, since the season started. Even down 19-31 they seemed perfectly sure in their ability to bounce back. And yesterday's trouncing of Milwaukee after what was a heartbreaker of a loss just reemphasized their seemingly complete faith in themselves. 1. Is it just a show? Are they really that confident? 2. If so, is it Martinez who has done it? Or a combination of the personalities? Certainly Parra has been a huge morale guy, but even before we got him they seemed to be a happy clubhouse.

The credit for the team morale --which is real-- goes to the veteran core of players, to Mike Rizzo for deliberately assembling that core with accountability, enthusiasm and improved fundamentals specifically in mind and to Martinez for having an excellent personality to help that sense of "team" take hold and grow.

As far as Davey goes, you can't teach "personality." You connect with people or you don't. He does. And he syncs with a veteran team which includes several players with careers similar to his --lots of years, lots of different roles and 1,599 hits. 

He didn't "MAKE" this team, but he certainly impacted it positively and helped keep things stable and confident in the worst times. Not many people have that gift --and give off the feeling that it is authentic, not an act. 

On the other hand, you can LEARN to run a bullpen better. Hope he learns fast enough. 

Tom - as you know Forbes puts out a top 50 most valuable sports franchises list every year. How in the world do the Redskins show up at #14, ahead of much more stable and seemingly successful teams like the Packers, Bears, Jets and Eagles? Is it because of all the money saved by playing on a painted dirt field by November?

Yes, it's almost certainly due to the paint.

How do you rate his performance this year? As expected or a slight disappointment compared to Soto's rookie year?

As I sometimes bore people by saying, you can't judge a player until you have seen him at his coldest AND his hottest. AND you don't know exactly what very cold and super hot look like for THAT player until you see it.

In his last seven games, Robles has hit .500 (13 for 26) and made excellent sprinting catches and really remarkable throws. Let's see how long "very hot" lasts.

But, right now, it feels like maybe Robles is moving up a level in comfort and confidence at the MLB level. We'll see. It's exciting to watch. When he batted 6th on Sunday and started the day with a homer and double I thought, "He may not hit lower than No. 6 many more times in his career."

How long will DM continue to bat Robles 8th ? And, where in the order do you think he should hit and why? Thanks, Rich

Hey, everybody's thinking alike today!

When he's hitting well, I like him 6th with Dozier, a respected hitter, behind him, instead of 7th or 8th with less support. Dozier can handle it. The only "asterisk:" right now, the Dozier of the last 3 months is still a better hitter than Robles. When Robles cools off, you probably want to move Dozier back up. Also, Suzuki hits LHers very well, hass had wonderful clutch production this year and there will be days when you want him hitting 6th.

These are nice problems to have.

Jason Day separated from his caddy Stevie Williams citing the reason that he (Jason) was new school and Stevie was old school. Apparently, the world of analytics has now entered the PGA Tour. Are you aware of how analytics are being used?

Yes, to a degree, in stats like "shots saved" in various areas of a players game. But, in general, I'd like to learn more. Especially in the sense that analytics might impact on-course decisions in which a caddie might be involved. Interesting --thanks.  

Assuming Zimmerman's rehab goes well, what do the Nats do with him? I don't think you can count on him actually staying healthy or being an important contributor. I know it wont matter once rosters expand in 2 weeks, but before then you would have to make a spot for him. Would you really dump Cabrera or Parra for Zim? Lastly, it does stink that we have to even ask this question. Zim was the Franchise when it was nothing. Tough to see it end this way.

I mentioned this to Rizzo yesterday. He said (paraphrase): On these types of hypothetical decisions, we sit around and talk about it. But by the time you need to decide, it seems like something has always happened that makes the decision obvious. 

I like the versatility that Cabrera brings. It's nice that, after 9/1, you don't have to worry about it because this team has several useful pieces it can add. Its perfect roster size would probably be 30-to-32 players, including a third catcher (Spencer Kieboom is a good one), another RH bat (Zim), a promising rookie who might give you a big at-bat in an extra-inning game, like Carter Kieboom. 

A 7th or 8th starter like Jeremy Hellickson who might be needed, or who could win an extra-inning game by going a few innings. Also, you have several extra relievers --Roenis Elias (the lefty the Nats got at the deadline) should be back soon from his pulled hamstring. Also, Holland, maybe Barrett.

Most teams improve a bit with expanded rosters. But the Nats may improve more than most --a real potential Sept edge.

Doolittle has pitched a number of games back to back. Recently, he has faltered when he has pitched back to back. What data is there on his record when he has been tasked to pitch back to back, especially, in the second game?

The injury is real. But 10 days seems like just about the right amount of mid-season vacation to give Doo's arm a chance to bounce back. But how well will the Nats' pen handle a lot of winnable games against the Pirates and O's during that 10 days? And the tough Cubs this weekend in Wrigley. 


I wanted to link our nice thoughtful story on Steph Curry sponsoring a golf program for Howard University. The story brings up all the points that I might have made.

Also, I think the Braves (and mgr Brian Snitker) handled Acuna's mental mistake correctly on Sunday. He stood at HP admiring what he thought was a HR to RF, then had to hustle just to get his single. Then, on the next pitch, he tried to steal 2nd which would have given his a 30-30 SB-HR year --but he got thrown out. Snitker mentioned that "the name on the front of the jersey" has to be more important "than the name on the back of the jersey."

Acuna seemed to be mature in accepting the mid-game hook with good grace.

The Braves, however, face a more difficult issue with young pitchers Soroka and Fried. (Yes, the Nats are aware of this.)

Max Fried, 25, only pitched 10 2/3 innings in '15 and 0 in '16 due to injuries. In building him back up, he worked 118 2/3 in '17 and 111 1/3 last year. But this year, he is already up to 131 1/3 innings. Can you let him have 8 or 9 more starts and then use him in the playoffs, too. That's a huge jump in innings, and risk, to a fine young lefty.

Soroka is only 21. His work loads in the minors were 34 inning, then 143 and 153 in '16 and '17. But last year, injuries held him to only 56 1/3 innings at age 20. How fast, and how high do you want to jump that work load in one season? This year he's already pitched 144 innings. Including post-season, do you potentially let him go from 56 1/3 to over 200 IP? When he looks like he may be a wonderful pitcher for many years?

The Nats had their tough calls with innings limits for Jordan Zimmermann, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross and others. They were always conservative and, so far, that seems to have helped the longevity of their prospects. 

I assume the Braves will be similarly far-sighted. But that isn't going to help them if the N.L. East race gets tight in September.  

That's all for today. Thanks for your fine questions. I'll see you all at 11 a.m. next Monday. Have a great week!  

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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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