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Second annual Nats-centric Baseball Prospectus review

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[Note: If doing the same thing at roughly the same time of year two years in a row qualifies as a tradition, then the following is my traditional review of what Baseball Prospectus has to say about the Washington Nationals. Additionally, at the end of this post, I will add a few thoughts on the non-Nats sections of the book.]

Let's say you are a Washington Nationals fan, and let's say you are a bright-line rule type of person, and let's say you simply will not abide any publication that refers to the Washington Nationals in an essay header as merely "Los Nacionales." If so, and if so, and if so, then you probably won't enjoy Baseball Prospectus 2006.

However, if you are more of a totality-of-the-circumstances type of reader and can overlook apparent snark and/or mid-winter confusion over the team's status and/or a not-so-subtle desire Washington won't keep the team, provided worthwhile content exists, then you might just find BP'06 worth your while.


If you can get past the whole "Los Nacionales" thing, the team essay explores a simple yet alluringly novel question: when did "the Nationals" truly come to exist?

  • Was it in September 2004, when Mayor Baseball and MLB agreed on a memorandum of understanding?
  • Or maybe it was December 2004, when the DC Council passed stadium legislation (the first time)?
  • Or perhaps it was a bit earlier, in November 2004, when the team was actually named the Nationals?
  • Or maybe it was far earlier than that, in February 2002, when grubby Jeffrey Loria sold the team to the super-grubby Seligulans?
The author of the Nacionales essay chooses none of the above and instead pinpoints November 2, 2004---the day Jim Bowden was hired to serve as general manager. At first blush, it sounds a bit strange. However, given the fits-and-starts (not to mention acrimonious) manner in which the stadium situation played out, maybe it is best to cite a date of birth unrelated to that mess. Further, though the essay author skirts the Boswellian Didactic Line of Patronizing Assumptions that People in DC Have Never Heard of Baseball, he or she makes a convincing case:
Many baseball lifers might have taken the slow road to credibility, focusing on a message of "we're just taking this one decade at a time," but Bowden, the original transactions junkie, may well have been the perfect fit: He gave the Washington metro area a taste of what baseball fans everywhere take for granted, a hot stove league warmed up by juicy rumors, consummated trades, and high-profile free agent signings.

. . . [T]he busy winter had helped generate enthusiasm in a market hungry for baseball. Surprising industry insiders who'd predicted that Washington wouldn't really be an improvement on Montreal, ticket sales boomed, and after a number of understandble hiccups, RFK Stadium evolved into a stable venue for a normal ballpark experience.

. . . Bowden helped generate a honeymoon that temporarily masked the more squalid considerations involving the new stadium and the relationship between the city and the baseball industry . . .

First---and unrelated to Bowden---I really wonder who these "industry insiders" were who questioned whether DC would be more viable to Montreal. I mean to cast no aspirations on Montreal, I swear, but who exactly could have feared the nascent Nats would have drawn a meager 9,369 paying customers per game and lack decent local play-by-play coverage? Alright, scratch that second consideration. But, if almost quadrupling the final Expos' attendance tally was sincerely surprising, then merely doubling it shouldn't have been.

Second---and actually relating to Bowden---there is a lot of copy between those ellipsises, nearly three pages' worth. And therein lies the insight gleaned by the essay writer: in between all of those ellipsises are the details of Bowden's one season at the healm of the team, and he---like no one else---has made his mark on the franchise.

To be sure, many of these details are gory; in fact, BP's view on our buddy Cap'n Leatherpants historically has been about as dim as that of any MLB executive outside of the Excrementary class, a/k/a Chuck Lamar and Cam Bonifay. Although the timeline is at times strained, the essay author reviews most of the transactions that caused us consternation at the time, stuff like tossing away starting pitchers like they were laced with Ebola, as well as not realizing that Preston Wilson's bat was laced by Ebola. Jerry Owens-for-Alex Escobar. Junior Spivey's ninety seconds of value to the team. Obviously, the Soriano deal (for "star outfielder" Brad Wilkerson.) You know the drill.


Sorry, an opening nitpick! There were only a few of them in the Nats' section; I don't know if this is a credit to Christina Kahrl's role as editor of the project this year, but I'm giving her the credit.

Anyway, here's some impressions and observations from the various player comments and listed PECOTA projections:

  • Carlos Baerga is subjected to the obvious yet apt Lenny Harris comparison; the criticism here is that, unlike a generation ago, the "veteran presence" bench guys in today's baseball can't actually play baseball. (It was fun to watch ol' Piston Legs in one last hurrah, though.)
  • Our old buddy, Passed Ball Bennett, is used as an example of Sheri Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense, the inverse relationship of a catcher's defensive rep and his hitting prowess. I've always liked that one.
  • There's some optimism for Tony Blanco and Colin Balester, serious praise for Chad Cordero, and a comparison of Dutch Zimmerman to Brooks Robinson (though Robinson doesn't show up as a PECOTA comp).
  • There's some serious pessimism for Kory Casto and Mike Hinckley, who is "on the cusp of becoming a non-prospect."
  • There's outright disdain for Brandon Watson; the prospect of him being a regular outfielder, the author wrote, is "a notion the rest of the division is happy to contemplate." Not surpisingly, Jason Tyner is one of his three PECOTA comps. The player comment anticipated Watson starting the year in New Orleans.
  • The author observes that, for whatever reason, "the Nats seem to be overlooking what they have" in Ryan Church. It's really simple, actually: the team thinks he's a wuss---and now an exhibitor of bad "body language," to boot.
  • Jon Rauch is " a perpetual mess mechanically."
  • Marlon Byrd's three comps are Wendell Magee, which seems strangely appropriate in a Phillies line of outfieldic succession sense; Tracy Jones, which speaks to the prospect of an unexpectedly short career; and Gabe Kapler, which means Byrd might be cut of granite and fluent in Japanese. The author regards Byrd as a fifth outfielder, no better.
  • PECOTA was "very pessimistic about [Luis Ayala's] near-term future." Sure enough, nothing inspires near-term pessimism like the words "out for the season."
And so forth.

* * *

Finally, I want to note how enjoyable this year's edition of BP was. I had grown tired of the "BP attitude" in recent years; truth be told, I'm not exactly sure what that means, because BP's always had plenty of attitude to spare. But the tone was less annoyingly arrogant and haughty this time around, and I enjoyed the '06 edition as I had not enjoyed the publication since probably 1999.

In particular, BP'06 is worth the buy if just to read Gary Huckabay's essay "Where Does Statistical Analysis Fall Down? Reality and Perception." Essentially, Huckabay provides a thorough and "soul-seeking" look at where so-called performance analysts stand in the baseball industry; sure enough, the observations are not always sanguine. Even more revealingly, Huckabay publishes a dinner interview with an unnamed GM on the subject of "stats guys" and their viability in big league front offices. I will probably revisit that interview in a forthcoming post; until then, though, I note that the interview is quite fascinating---and, in case you are wondering:

  • the unnamed GM is not Billy Beane, unless
  • Billy Beane refers to himself in the third person.
Which would, in a way, validate Joe Morgan's old claim that Beane wrote Moneyball . . .