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Pitches Illustrated

This is an excellent little site/cheatsheet illustrating how various pitches look from the catcher’s batter’s perspective. These diagrams assume a right handed pitcher. For lefties, imagine them (roughly) in reverse. 

For extra fun, print this out and read Stu’s excellent piece on Strasburg’s opening day pitch selection. It looks like Strasburg’s new slider is part of a plan to start busting left handed batters down and in. Contrast this with Strasburg’s previous approach against lefties: the changeup running away from the batter. 

In old-timey pitch classification, this gives Strasburg both an “in-shoot” (slider) and an “out-shoot” (changeup) against lefties. If you’re a DC baseball fan and believe in baseball reincarnation, this is a good thing. Guess who else had this kind of repertoire?

The ball that bothered the Naps [Cleveland Indians, managed by Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie] yesterday from Johnson’s delivery was a fast high inshoot that broke just in front of the plate. He had all the Cleveland batsmen guessing on this ball. If it failed to break, it cut the plate at about the height of the batsman’s breast letters. When they swung at it, however, it seemed to lift over the handle of the bat. This ball, breaking properly, is practically impossible to hit squarely, and will fool the cleverest stick artist in the business. Johnson’s speed, of course, is a factor in all of his work, his curves taking their swing viciously just before reaching the batting area.

 

Not bad, Strassy. Learn from the Big Train.

Predicting the 2014 Nats: Once More Into The Breach

I’m going to cut to the chase. I project the 2014 Washington Nationals to win 96 games.

I caught a lot of static last year when I predicted the 2013 Nationals to win 98 games and take the NL East.

They won 86, of course. Bryce Harper hit a wall–literally. That cost about 100 plate appearances, which had to be allocated to a series of bench players that were, frankly, terrible. Adam LaRoche was not the hitter we knew from his amazing comeback season in 2012.

The one thing I can’t do in my projection system is anticipate playing time. I have tried to correct for that factor this year. Last year, I assigned each of the starting 8 batters the average number of plate appearances that a batter in that NL would face in a year.

That, I have decided, is an error. Looking over at defense, I had also picked a total number of games that I expected each player to play at each position. The defensive projections are based on UZR per 150 games–which means I had to reduce the number of plate appearances for each starter accordingly.

Looking at it again, I had to further discount the number of plate appearances for each starter to the extent that I expected them to miss time. Notably, I have assumed that Adam LaRoche will miss around 20 games, and Jayson Werth will miss around 30–not unreasonable, given their respective ages and injury histories.

Going through and discounting each batter in that way, we come down to a projection of 677 runs scored in 2014. That’s up from 656 runs scored in 2013. Having more Bryce Harper helps, not to mention more of Wilson Ramos.

On the other side of the ball, we have one of the more interesting problems already. Doug Fister’s lat injury is incredibly worrisome. Our latest information is that he will be out another two weeks, and then probably have his innings severely limited for a while. In this optimistic scenario, then, we end up with 160 innings for Fister.

I have picked Taylor Jordan, rather than Tanner Roark, as the probable “fifth” starter. That means Roark’s innings are limited to 60–which should cover the time I expect Fister to be out. Fister’s innings deficit is consumed further with a heavier workload for Detwiler (who I expect to come in as a “piggyback” reliever to allow Fister to build innings)..

Taylor Jordan, incidentally, cannot be counted on to pitch more than 170 innings this year. That’s 120% of his previous high in innings pitched at all levels, in line with organizational rules.

I’m projecting 190 innings for Strasburg, too. I don’t think that’s out of line, given Zimmermann’s progression from the same surgery.

There’s nothing much to report on the defensive end. So, given the pitching and the defense, I see the 2014 Nats allowing 564 runs.

I’ll have more details out over the next couple of days so that I can make this a bit more transparent. But I’ve been so busy with other stuff (y’know, the day job), that I haven’t been able to devote my full attention to these projections.

I really expected this to be worse. I really did. But, fundamentally, I think the 2014 Nats are the same talented bunch we expected to see in 2013. The only thing they’ve got left to do is show up and show us.

Jhonatan Solano: I Know What You Did Last Winter

Note: This was originally supposed to appear on Nationals 101 as a “Who Should Be the Backup Catcher” kind of post. With the Nats trading pitcher Nate Karns to Tampa for José Lobatón and two minor leaguers, this post has been overtaken by events. Still, it would have been a shame to let this go to waste.

In the winter of 2011-2012, The Onion played for the Tigres del Licey, the powerhouse of the Dominican League. He made 36 appearances, batting .with a slash line of .221/.308/.317. In 2012-13, Solano was back with Licey, making 12 appearances, batting .333/.400/.583 with 3 doubles and 2 HR–small sample, but maybe an improvement.

Ever since, he has played closer to home, in Colombia, in the decidedly less well regarded Colombian League for his hometown Caimanes de Barranquilla. How’s he doing? In 3 appearances, he’s 3 for 11, with 1 double. That’s .273/.363/.364–this, in a league that features only two big-leaguers: The Onion and his brother, Donovan. Oh, and the Caimanes? They went 10-32.

The good news is that The Onion has been consistent. Wherever he’s been, he’s been the same slap-hitting catcher that we’ve come to know in the Nats organization.

The bad news is that he’s made only 3 appearances for what can only be described as a shambolically bad Caimanes team this winter. That’s bad on two fronts. First, here’s a guy who usually plays 20-30 games a winter down to six. What happened? Injury? News is pretty scarce out of the Colombian League. Second: Solano used to play in the Dominican league, a league studded with talent. Even if he never hit very well, at least he got a chance to catch guys who had been or might have a chance at becoming big leaguers–in 2011, he would have had a chance to catch former Nats greats Jesús Colomé and Atahualpa Severino, as well as Ubaldo Jiménez. In Colombia he has caught…well, nobody.

I love Solano, and he’s a very easy Nat to root for. He has one of the greatest “how I got to the Show” stories in baseball. But looking over his last few winters’ worth of work makes me pray even more fervently for Wilson Ramos’s continued good health.

Postscript: Jhonatan Solano is called “The Onion” in English. Some have attempted to back-translate this into Spanish by calling him “Cebolla,” which is literally “onion.” But I hate giving male ballplayers nicknames that are female nouns, so I call him “El Cebollín”–the little onion.

Imported from Detroit

The Nats traded Lombardozzi, Krol, and minor-league pitcher Robby Ray for Detroit starting pitcher Doug Fister. It’s official. 

I can’t even begin to process this trade. It was so unexpected. And, on its face, it is amazing.

Here’s what the Nats acquired in Fister. Since 2009, Fister has an ERA of 3.53 and a FIP of 3.68.  That would automatically give him the second-best FIP among Nats starters–only Strasburg is better. His repertoire means that he induces more ground balls–and since 2009, he has a ground ball rate of 49.3%. That would be the highest among Nats starters. He has 1.81 BB/9–the lowest walk rate of any of the Nats pitchers. He has a slightly worse strikeout-to-walk ratio than Jordan Zimmermann (Fister: 3.46 K/BB, JZ 3.64 K/BB).

And consider that Fister has performed very well over the years as a ground ball pitcher with an infield that is sometimes comically inept: the Tigers were 9th in the AL in UZR, mostly because of a lack of range.

Now imagine Fister dealing groundballs with the Nats infield–a defense that, even with its woes in 2013, was still a good dozen runs better than the Tigers. Imagine a still-more efficient Nats infield, armed with the knowledge of the tendencies of opposing hitters, reinforced with better advance scouting and more intelligent defensive alignments. Imagine Ian Desmond gunning down runners.

Imagine it and smile, Nats town, because that’s the promise.

Yeah, I like this trade.

Now if only Rizzo would sign Robinson Cano and sign Rakuten Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka….

Blind Spot

I’ve been busy working my day job, as it were, and haven’t really been able to write anything here. I haven’t felt like I have had much to add to the general postseason hangover for Nats fans.

I have, however, been watching the World Series. I’m starved for baseball–any baseball–and this particular Series gives me the opportunity to root unabashedly for the Pete Kozma to lose. That’s good.

Unfortunately, it also obliges me to listen to the mindless blather of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on Fox–easily the worst baseball broadcast most fans will see in any given year. Buck’s stilted cadences (more suited to the NFL than baseball) and McCarver’s senile witterings annoy the hell out of me, a baseball addict. I imagine they would drive casual non-fans (for whom the World Series is the only Series) away from the game forever. And that’s before the shameless commercial hucksterism, product-placement, awkwardly forced jingoism, and the endless in-game sideline reports!

About those sideline reports: They’re recorded between innings, but broadcast while the game is actually in progress. They disconnect the viewing public from what is actually happening in favor of what someone thinks about what just happened, which seems wrong. Besides, there is nothing that the booth can ask a manager between innings that cannot be better asked (and answered) after the game.

Not content with invading the dugout, the Fox broadcast also “floods the zone” with not one but two dedicated “sideline reporters:” the beautiful Erin Andrews and the reliably dapper Ken Rosenthal.

And yet, with all of this reporting power, they still manage to miss opportunities to bring genuine insight into the game.

One moment in particular bothers me. In the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 3, with the score tied at 2, a runner on first, and nobody out, Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow delivered a pitch that just barely grazed Carlos Beltran’s elbow guard. Beltran made some minimal effort to avoid the ball, but he showed his elbow to the umpire, who awarded him first base. Beltran, the hit batsman, made his way to first base, where he was greeted by Red Sox first baseman (!) David Ortiz. As Junichi Tazawa trotted in from the bullpen in relief of Breslow, The Fox cameras caught Beltran and Ortiz in the middle of an animated discussion. There was much gesticulation.

It did not escape my notice:

Indeed, Fox had a parabolic microphone operator nearby, just up the first-base foul line, who could have aimed his microphone at first base. The lively discussion continued, but Tim McCarver and Joe Buck paid it no mind. It’s not like on-field microphones never pick up interesting conversations between players, you know?

Then it occurred to me that Beltran (from Puerto Rico) and Ortiz (from the Dominican Republic) might not have been speaking English. So, even if the parabolic mic had been able to record their conversation, nobody in the Fox broadcast could have possibly been able to understand it or comment upon it.

Think about that for a minute. In 2013, there were  1,408 Major League baseball players. 327 of them were born in Spanish-speaking nations or territories (Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela). That’s 23% of the population–just under one in four major leaguers.

Of those 327 Major Leaguers born in Spanish-speaking countries, I count 7 on the World Series rosters.

And yet Fox Sports did not have at its disposal one reporter, sideline or otherwise, that might have shed some light on exactly what Ortiz and Beltran were so animatedly discussing at first base. Not one. Ken Rosenthal, fine baseball reporter that he is, doesn’t speak Spanish. Erin Andrews doesn’t speak Spanish either–hell, I’m surprised she can even feign interest in baseball, given her NCAA football roots. Joe Buck can’t speak Spanish. And Tim McCarver? McCarver can barely speak English.

The absence of a bilingual reporter, to me, amounts to a kind of journalistic malpractice. Fox had every opportunity to improve and enrich its coverage with a bilingual sideline reporter– It could have borrowed from its Spanish-language affiliate, Fox Deportes. By failing to do so, they passed up at least one potentially fascinating story in a tremendously fascinating World Series.

And it’s not like the capacity doesn’t exist. James Wagner of the Washington Post is bilingual, and his knowledge of Spanish has tremendously enriched the Post’s coverage of the Nationals, allowing him to speak to players like Wilson Ramos or Rafael Soriano in a language they can understand.

The linguistic blind spot manifests itself in other ways, too. The Cardinals and the Red Sox are playing in the World Series–but for every other organization in the Major Leagues, it is time to turn to off-season player development. Yes: winter ball. But players on MLB 40-man rosters cannot participate in the Caribbean Winter Leagues without a Winter League Agreement.  The Winter Agreement for this season was not finalized until October 12, one day after Opening Day in Venezuela. This was, in effect, a lockout that prevented MLB players from reporting to their Winter League teams–a story totally ignored by the English-language baseball press.

Baseball is certainly America’s Pastime. But if your organization’s mission is to bring the Pastime to America and make them understand it, you do your readers/viewers/listeners a great disservice if you don’t speak all of its languages.