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Kia-thon '06!


Were the thirteen runs scored by the Nats in their first exhibition game of the spring encouraging, or were the eight runs allowed to the Kia Tigers discouraging? Maybe both, and maybe neither; at any rate, there's something to be said for not being the Cincinnati Reds. As noted by the Beltway Boys:

In the first game of spring, The Kia Tigers mauled the Cincinnati Reds 12-4.

Dave Williams, obtained over the winter from the Pirates for Sean Casey, gave up five runs on 35 pitches in the first inning, including a long home run by Lim Sung-min.

In any language, a five-run win is better than an eight-run loss.

Not that this game particularly informed our understanding of our Nats. Frank Robinson trotted out of the dugout with a line-up card that we hopefully won't witness on a regular basis during the real season. Damian Jackson (not Alfonso Soriano or Jose Vidro, obviously) started at second base. The outfield, from left to right, was Marlon Byrd, Brandon Watson, and Ryan Church. Matt (the bug-eater) Lecroy served as John ("Big Nasty") Patterson's battery-mate. Michael Tucker started at DH. I can't decide which one I like worse: Tucker as an '06 Nat or the DH.

Still, a win's a win, right? Rack 'em, clones.

* * *

I don't really know why I'm recounting the high- and low-lights of an exhibition game against some team named Kia, but here's the straight dope, according to the account:

  • Lecroy drove in three runs. He drove them all in on a single hit. It was a bases-clearing hit. It was a single. Beat that.
  • Cristian Guzman went two-for-two with a ribbie. CBPotY, baby!
  • Endy Reloaded went hitless in four trips.
  • Our very own sacred cow, Ryan Church, had two hits and a ribbie in three at-bats.
  • Alex Escobar flipped a toolsy middle finger at the Natosphere, pumping a solo shot in the eighth.
  • Big Nasty got cuffed (two runs in one pitch-count-exhausting inning).
  • Chief Cordero got double-cuffed (four runs allowed, one batter retired).
  • Some other guys---including, I think, Bill Bray---pitched, but who really cares about them.
Reportedly, many sunflower seeds were sacrificed.

* * *

It must be Ryan Zimmerman day, as both and the Post ran profiles of Dutch. (I would expect the Wash. Times to run one in tomorrow's edition.)

The Post article, the longer of the two profiles, contains yet more proof that, while Frank Robinson may be old and cranky at times, he's not crazy like Bowden:

Zimmerman had not even played a professional baseball game yet when Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden compared his defensive abilities to those of Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt -- a staggering statement that had others in the organization rolling their eyes or cringing.

"I didn't make those comparisons," Robinson said Wednesday, when the subject of Bowden's remarks came up. "I look at it as not being fair to an individual. [He] hasn't played any games at the big league level, and we're comparing him to Hall of Famers. It's just not fair. . . . Remember, this kid is going to be on a learning curve all year long. It's going to be an up-and-down type of year with him, because I don't think he's going to come in and burn the league up."

Over fifteen years ago, Bill James wrote something I consider particularly sagacious. It  concerns how to temper expectations of young players. I think it bears repeating---obviously so, or why else would I repeat something written over fifteen years ago, right? Anyway:

I don't like to try to project a player more than two steps ahead of himself. I have this spectrum in my mind, stacked up something like this:
  • Superstar
  • Star
  • Quality Regular
  • Regular
  • Major League Fringe
  • AAA player
  • AA player
  • A Ball and Rookie Leagues
  • College Player
I think it is fair to try to project a player one stage ahead of where he is, and you can try to look two steps ahead. I'm often asked to try to look further ahead than that, and I just don't think it's productive . . . But people ask me fairly often today who I think will be a superstar, and I just don't think you can answer that question very successfully. I think an organization just causes trouble for itself when it starts talking or even thinking about a AA player becoming a superstar.

I don't intend to apply this quotation too strictly. For one, what is Zimmerman? Is he a major league regular, or a quality big league record, based on an excellent 58 at-bat September call-up? Or is he a Double-A player, because that was the level at which he demonstrated sustained ability? I don't know---and, to be frank, I don't care. The distinction is not that important.

I am merely saying that when a 21-year-old player with less than a month's big league experience is described as, per the Post article---

Future Hall of Famer or not, Zimmerman merely is trying to be as inconspicuous as possible this spring

---then it might be time for the organization to temper expectations a bit.

Oh, I think Zimmerman will turn out just fine. He's a legitimately excellent prospect in the eyes of everyone whose opinion counts, including John Sickels. Odds are he will pan out and enjoy a long and special career.

But there is the chance that Zimmerman's first clear shot at establishing himself in the bigs will be short and decidedly unspecial. Perhaps not an oppressive chance (hopefully not), but a chance nonetheless. It is wise to prepare for such a result, and constant comparisons to members of the Baseball Hall of Fame serve no one's best interests, particularly Zimmerman's.