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A La Cuisine

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Terrell Young at work

Joel Hanrahan is a closer -- even, evidently, at celebrity cooking competitions -- and yesterday, he tried to close the deal even before the oil hit the skillet. When I walked into the ESPN Zone, site of the event, Hanrahan greeted me with a thick, finger-locking handshake, and when he let me out of his grasp I noticed that a rolled wad of money had somehow materialized in my palm. I unfolded the bribe and counted it out. One dollar.

Unswayed, I handed it back to the big reliever. But this, in retrospect, was a mistake. That dollar could have gone a long way to the purchase of some Tums.

Anyway, last night's cook-off was a hoot -- a hearty battle both for the players-turned-chefs and the judges' digestive systems. Two Nationals, Willie Harris (maple glazed salmon) and Garrett Mock (a Creole pasta) cooked by themselves, though everybody received guidance from a team of ESPN Zone chefs. The four other players paired up: Hanrahan and John Lannan worked on an Asian-style sea bass, while Terrell Young and Steven Shell tired to assemble (and later, after it fell apart, reassemble) a beef fajita.

I had never judged a cooking competition before, though not for lack of desire. So when Nats communications manager Lisa Pagano had asked earlier in the week if I could serve on the panel, I quickly said OK, and promised to arrive with a clear mind, a full heart and an empty stomach. Also on the judging panel: an ESPN Zone head chef, Nats blogger Cathy "Miss Chatter" Taylor, and Manager Manny Acta. Clearly, Acta didn't share my high expectations for the cuisine. He'd already eaten beforehand, he told me. Just in case, you know.

Once the chefs all took their stations, everything was a blur of chopping, sizzling and mostly good smells. Hanrahan had tried to butter me up, but I gotta say, bacon is an even better sort of bribery -- and there in the corner was Harris, tossing big chunks of cured goodness into a frying pan. Meantime, at the other cooking stations, several of the Nats held sharp knives to their cutting boards, and it seemed somewhat questionable at one point whether their vegetables or their fingers would incur more damage. One supervising chef looked worriedly as Mock tried to deconstruct a bell pepper.

"You're a pitcher, right?" the chef asked Mock.

"Yeah," Mock said.

"Well, roll those fingers up a little bit when you're cutting. Like this."

Perhaps it's a good sign for Washington's luck this 2009 season that everybody finished prepping their meals before the buzzer, and all the better that none of Washington's bullpen members will enter the season with three-fingered throwing arms. All the chefs seemed proud of their creations -- and frankly, they all looked spectacular. The Lannan/Hanrahan sea bass had a tear down the middle, like a sinking Titanic, but it still looked beautiful because of its sesame seed crust. Harris's salmon had a mouth-watering shell of dark and sweet spice, and was layered between sauteed spinach and, yes, bacon and beens. Mock's pasta was a veritable Pisa tower of carbs and sausage; on sight alone, his looked best. As for Shell and Young? Well, their fajita was kind of overstuffed, in dire need of a tourniquet keep the rice-guac-beef innards from busting at the seams. But still, I'd eat those ingredients even if they were pureed and cupped into meatballs; rice-guac-beef is the ultimate culinary symphony.

So, it came time for the judging. First of all I should say that everything, by the standards of free food, was much-appreciated. Some of the dishes were downright fantastic. The sea bass flaked just so, with all of that great moisture and delicacy. Harris's dish was even better -- and after I'd taken down one or two sweet bites of a perfectly-cooked fish, I was pretty much ready to reconsider my Top Georgia Chef List.

1. Willie Harris.
2. Paula Deen

(Plus, Harris uses less butter.)

The only downside to the whole event was that Harris didn't cook everything. When Shell/Young presented their fajita to the judges, Acta squirmed as if looking at a plate of worms. Briefly, he said he wouldn't eat it. He didn't like that Young had used bare hands as serving utensils. As we ate, he complained about the dish's presentation. I could have been sitting next to Tom Colicchio.

Mock's dish was served last. He should have brought a fire hydrant as his side dish. You won't often hear a pitcher get criticized for his use of heat, but somehow all bets are off if we're talking not about fastballs, but cayenne pepper. Indeed, within that photo-worthy stack of pasta, Mock had dropped about four gallons of the hot stuff. A few bites, and the judges' internal organs were set aflame. Acta could scarcely manage a second bite.

After the judges announced their decision, Harris, the grand champ and a worthy winner, told the audience that he'd come to the event just hoping to have fun, but by the end -- as his competitive juices started to boil -- he really, really wanted to win. In fact, as he watched the judges deliberate, he had butterflies in his stomach. But hey, compared to having all that cayenne in your stomach, butterflies didn't sound so bad.

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* Please note, a special thanks is owed to Nats fan Cheryl Nichols, who provided the photos. You can check out more of her photos here.

By Chico Harlan  |  January 24, 2009; 1:32 PM ET
 
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Comments

From the earlier thread

BinM and Nunof1:

I read the quote. Obviously JimBo got his info from Brodie or McGeary. Where else would he get it? The point is that maybe McGeary would have liked his father to find out from him and not by getting a phone call from a reporter. McGeary should have been the one to release the information, not JimBo.

CIL:

No, I don't think playing on a team that wins 59 rather than 72 matters to development. These guys are professionals. The idea that players become much better because of who is around them is overblown. Can someone point to a player who was mediocre and them become an all star just because he got traded to a better team? Players are players.

Now, if you're talking about a 15 year old HS sophomore, then maturity may play a larger role, and your point has some validity. Still, my experience has been, regardless of age, that if a guy can play, he can play. It doesn't really matter what he has around him.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the report, Chico (and for being gastronomically game). You could give Sietsema a run for his money.

I should have known that Super Chef would take it all in the end!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 24, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I think that being surrounded by good players is not really a factor. Some of the kids out of Tampa seem fine (you know, the ones before last year), being on a bad team never hurt Vlad Guerro.

I would have thought that being given opportunities is of more use to these guys.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 24, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

BTW, sorry to have missed BinM and natbisquit at the Pfitz. We really enjoyed the event and are looking forward to tomorrow's Fest.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 24, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Fun judging with you!! I'm happy to say, I am still alive and kicking despite the calisthenics my stomach was put through. Nah, the food was pretty impressive and that was a hoot!

Posted by: misschatter | January 24, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

"McGeary should have been the one to release the information, not JimBo."

#4, perhaps you haven't noticed, but pretty much the only time players are the first ones to release information about a change in their career status is when they retire. Signings, moves from one level to another, etc, are typically announced by the player's agent and/or the general manager. If McGeary was concerned that his father find out before anyone else, he should have told his father of his decision before he told his agent, or told his agent not to tell the team yet. I'm afraid you'd have a hard time pinning blame on JimBo for any of this. And indeed I'd say you're making a mountain out of a molehill if you try to.

Posted by: nunof1 | January 24, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

After reading 320's piece, I am thinking that the new coaches might really make a difference. Grissom (former Expo) played the game the right way for a long time. Listach is a highly regarded minor league manager. Eckstein got rave reviews as a hitting coach from the AFL players. And Randy Knorr knows the young arms from Potomac. That looks like a nice mix of guys to me.

Posted by: BobLHead | January 24, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Nunof1:

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. My sense of the proper way to manage people on something like this is to make sure it's OK to release the information. It would be like trading a guy and announcing it to the media before you told him. Sure it happens, but it's not the right thing to do.

I will concede that it's possible Brodie or McGeary told JimBo it was OK to talk about it. I hope it's as easy for you to concede that given JimBo's history of loose lips, it makes sense to think, given the father's denial, that JimBo made a mistake here.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

"I will concede that it's possible Brodie or McGeary told JimBo it was OK to talk about it."

Whenever a player's agent informs a general manager that the player will be doing something, the assumption should be that the information is fair game to be released to the press unless a specific request is made otherwise. In this case, it appears McGeary's agent informed Bowden that the player would be going full-time, and did not request that the information be kept in-house. If anyone erred here (and I don't think anyone did, but apparently you do) it was the agent, not Bowden.

Posted by: nunof1 | January 24, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Nice story, Chico, and great pic of Manny In A Hat

Posted by: CEvansJr | January 24, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Nunof1:

I just think that good managers of people don't make assumptions for the very reason that it could put those under their supervision in difficult spots. Sure, JimBo can say, "Hey kid, it was your agents fault." The point is by making the assumption and talking about it publicly, JimBo may have put McGeary in a embarassing position. That's not the way to engender loyalty. Is it the end of the world? No, just another small mistake in handling people.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

#4, thanks for your response, but I'm going to have to disagree with you on this. When young hitters are constantly losing and playing from behind, they pick up bad habits--more likely to overswing and try to be a hero, less likely to be selective and draw walks, etc. Look at what happened to the Dodgers after Manny came out to LA--they became better and more selective hitters, in part just by watching him hit. Of course, this is all marginal to a player's development, but I think it is meaningful. Same thing for pitchers, if not even more pronounced. Pitchers who think that their lineup won't give them more than 2 or 3 runs try to be too perfect; this can be especially damaging for a pitcher who is just learning how to pitch in the big leagues (Lannan, Balester, Zimmermann, etc.) Some young pitchers, as I'm sure you know, never overcome the early shell-shock mentality and they fizzle out. Some of those guys maybe were never destined to stick, but others? Maybe they could have, but we won't know because you can't change the past.

The point about Tampa Bay also misses the issue--we're talking about development here. Even though Carl Crawford is a very good player, we'll never know if he could be even better--or developed more quickly--if he had been on a better team when he was younger. Similarly, if the Nats don't bring in some veteran bats to surround Zimm, Dukes, Milledge, we'll never know for sure whether or not they lived up to their potential--all we'll see are the results, we won't know what could have been.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 24, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly, here is what Bowden had to say yesterday on this topic, courtesy of SBF:

"Number One—we need a left-handed big bat in the middle of the lineup, someone that can help protect our young hitters. To have to put Milledge in the clean up spot put a lot of pressure on Zim and Dukes. To have someone take the pressure off them would help them develop a lot quicker, so that’s a need."

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 24, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

CIL:

I think the key to our disagreement is separating development from performance. I don't think Ryan Zimmerman will become a better hitter because Adam Dunn is around. In other words if he's destined to be a .320/30/110 guy, he'll become that whether Adam Dunn is around or not.

The original argument centered on whether they should be blowing their salary structure to go from 59 to 72 wins. You say yes, because players will "develop" better. I think you really mean they will "perform" better. IMO, it's not time for that yet.

I hope that makes sense.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I do understand the distinction you're making #4, but I actually do mean that I think the younger players will develop better with vets around who have ability.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 24, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

CiL

I think you argued your point well. But I'm not sure that using Jim Bowden as an expert witness to argue you case is the best strategy...

;)

Posted by: soundbloke | January 24, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I hear you, soundbloke, it scared me too. Part of the reason I put up that quote from Bowden is because it surprised me to see that he said it. Although I don't think we've ever really heard Bowden's views on "The Plan" or what The Plan actually is, his comment seems contrary in my view to most people's notion of The Plan--i.e., the "only sign big free agents as the last piece(s) of the puzzle" theory. His comment is more supportive of the idea that free agents should be brought in along the way.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | January 24, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

CiL

can tell you exactly what Bowden thinks of the the plan.

He signed Belliard, Guzman, Willingham, Young to multi-year deals.

I'm a planista but I don't disagree with the idea of bringing in older players. Good players like Hudson could work out. Good fundamentals and good work ethic. Dunn could be signed simply because he is one of very few choices. I'd rather see us sign Kila or Barton and see if they develop but I certainly see the educational advantage of Dunn over Belliard at first..

It's Bowden filling roster spots with poor veterans that boils my blood.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 24, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

CIL:

I hadn't seen that quote. It's an interesting comment. Another way to interpret is, "None of these guys will ever be a clean up hitter, so it's better to bat them in a lower spot so our expectations won't be so high. Then we'll be happier with their performance." I kind of think that might be the reality. I mean, how long did Prince Fielder need to have a big bat around him? Teixiera? Pujols? They didn't need protection. They starting raking with their first 500 MLB ABs.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Should have clarified.

Hudson would have been a good idea if Bowden hadn't saddled us with Guzman for another two years.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 24, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Folks:
Regardless of who is in the #3, #5 & #6 slot in the batting order in 2009, having a consistent LH hitter with power in the #4 or #5 slot is critical to taking this team up a level in terms of competition.

To paraphrase Manny Acta - Having Millidge (or Dukes, RZimmerman, Flores, Kearns or Willingham) at the #4 slot puts pressure on the rest of the lineup. This team needs a pure cleanup hitter; If it ends up being Dunn, sobeit - I'll suffer through the indignities his fielding brings to the team, and hope the infield keeps their sanity. If it's someone else via trade, I can only hope the team is able to drop players in 'ovrage' positions (ML OF, MiL CA, P) in exchange.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

@sound:

The re-sign of Guzman doesn't preclude a signing of Hudson. The only thing stopping the team from signing anybody are the Lerners.
Maybe they have to see proof - if attendance slips, say 40% from the 2008 numbers, then the'll react. The sad thing is, by then they'll be too late to get the casual fan base "hooked".

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

As I've said before, I almost believe thet the Lerner's are looking at it as an ROI - Would signing _______ increase our attendance enough to validate his annual salary?

They're taking a far too business-like approach to ownership, imo - If we acquire this, it will return this. They occaisionally need to stop thinking like pure businessmen, and think like fans for a while.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

#4, you need to get off your high horse. First of all, there's no indication that McGeary or anyone else is in any way upset at this news being revealed. Here's what Chico wrote:

"Those in the McGeary camp, though, are emphasizing that no official decision has yet been made, and that McGeary remains at Stanford for the time being. "It's rumor at this point," McGeary's father, Pat, said this morning. "I think it would be premature for me to say anything.""

In other words, Chico talked with McGeary's father, who is on the other side of the country from his son (Boston, right?). This all may have been decided within the last few days, and the father may be out of the loop. (Did you call home every night when you were away at college?) So as far as the father knows, this is still rumor. Even if he knew the kid was planning it, he may not have heard yet that it's official, so he's simply refusing to confirm anything one way or the other by his comment to Chico.

Really, it's obvious that you're just using this as an excuse to grind an ax against Bowden. I'm not saying Bowden is perfect, far from it actually. But there's absolutely no indication that he did anything wrong here.

Posted by: nunof1 | January 24, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

@sound (Addendum):

You'd think the Learner's would have learned that an opening (be it a Mall, Office space or ballpark) needs the "WOW" factor when you open. Maybe they thought the under-publicised 'food courts' (local vendors & the CF bar) or the "Circus" (Screech, the 'racing Presidents' & Clint) would do it, but that wasn't it. The "WOW" factor to a ML Baseball club is what you are able to put on the field, not what you give the patrons already in the stands. Kasten, Bowden & Rizzo should already understand that.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Carrying forward, being a post behind (let's do the time warp again):

BinM, I was there with my husband and a baseball buddy. Sorry to have missed you and natbisquit. I ran back to the car at one point to get a hoody for additional layering under my windbreaker. I did neglect to bring a hat, though. A miscalculation on my part.

I also appreciated having the opportunity to exchange a few words with the players, Charlie (Bang! Zoom!) Slowes, and Manny Acta. High points for me were getting to chat and have a pic taken with the skipper; having a pic taken with Ryan Zimmerman; and having a pic taken with the Mills Cup Trophy (no offense to the aforementioned fellows).

Some people were disappointed that Zimmerman was not signing (a contractual restriction, evidently). We attended a caravan event the winter after he was drafted and he was signing autographs then. Evidently the contract was not in force at that point.

I found the employees (both P-Nats and Washington Nats today, I think) to be congenial and accommodating for the most part. Although the event was scheduled to run from 10-11, they were processing the remaining fans who were in line when we left at 11:30.

The complementary Glory Days spread was tasty (thumbs up from me on the on the BBQ sandwich, coleslaw, and brownie; my hubby was not so enthusiastic about the mac & cheese. Maybe my home cookin' version has spoiled him - heh).

All in all, an enjoyable event. Hope that a Pfitz visit will become a caravan tradition. We're looking forward to tomorrow's fan fest.

Oh, and we whined to Charlie about the radio reception.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 24, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Hey Chico!

I was at the Pfitz today. Met up with 1A too. Ryan couldn't sign autographs because of something in his contract? If he signs a new contract and you get to talk to him before, please encourage him to leave that part out! :<(.

The guys there were good sports! Acta greeted everyone. Good eats from Glory Days Grill.

Regarding last night. I can see it now. TOP CHEF - WASHINGTON NATIONALS! From the looks of it; it seems Willie would be good at it as well as that fish entre that looked delicious as well!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | January 24, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

@1a1:

Had the weather been a bit more temperate, the fans might have had a chance to mingle & interact a bit more (what I personally was hoping for). Sorry to have missed out on that opportunity. Glad the spread was good - the line to get into the stadium was nearly back to the parking lot when I left; hope the turnout met or exceeded the FO expectations.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

I didn't have a good feel for how many were in attendance, BinM, but I also hope that the turnout met or exceeded expectations.

Good point on the weather and mingling. I was trying to scope out unusual (i.e., non-Nat) ball caps in hopes of spotting yours. Hope that there will be future opportunities to put monikers to faces, as you say. Maybe the Post will sponsor another meet and greet (What's that Chico? It's on you? Excellent...) :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 24, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Weird. Is this a new contract since 2007? I've got two autographs of Zim from 2007.

Posted by: NatsNut | January 24, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

CHICO!! kudos for the gratuitous iron chef reference! the office and iron chef back to back, you've got good taste

Posted by: formerlylove | January 24, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Here is a fun article crunching numbers to rate outfield arms in 2008.
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/best-outfield-arms-of-2008/
Four Nats are rated - ED, Lastings, AK, and SuperWillie. All numbers are normalized against league average for the types of throwing opportunities and ballpark effects.

You'll probably not be shocked that ED was the only above-average arm based on "kills" and "holds." He was the only one to throw out runners well above average last year. Lastings and AK were pathetic, while Willie was merely terrible. The interesting thing to note was that the latter 3 were not far below league average in holds, but Dukes was slightly worse. My guess is that most 3d base coaches and base runners said, "why bother to run on these arms; we are likely to get a chance to knock them in via a hit or a fly ball later in the inning."

I also sneaked a peak at a few others of interest. Willingham was around league average and 3.5 runs better than Willie over 200 opportunities in LF. Dunn a touch worse than Willie, worth 2.3 runs200.
Poopy can be proud of Markakis and Adam Jones. Finally, there seems to be one flaw in Grady Sizemore's game, I guess just to prove he's mortal.

With one more bit of data, one conclusion you can draw is a JayBee vindication. If you go through the Hardball Times fielding stats and look at the RZR (Revised Zone Ratings - a rate measure of batted balls a CF converts into an out in his area of responsibility), Lastings was 19th out of 20 CFs in the majors last year among the CFs who played 850 innings. As much as I like Lastings's offense and his hitting potential, he truly was a horror in CF last year. Dukes in CF, Lastings in LF, Willingham in RF seems to be the way to go with the current OF mix, barring a big Kearns come back.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 24, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

@1a1:

WaPo> Nationals+Nationals Fans ="Meet & Greet" ... Hilarious!!!

The WaPo is convinced that there are barely 9,000 of us nationwide, as opposed to the 90,000 strong that flock to Snyder's masoleum for eight games in the fall / winter.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Glad you liked it, BinM.

Interesting, NatsNut, re. 2007.

Last, but not least, there's video of Chico (and others) in action on the MASN site:

http://www.masnsports.com/index_nationals.html

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 24, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Jca:

Just cleaning my chaps and spurs over here... while getting down off my high horse, I found your OF defensive really interesting and surprising. Thanks for posting them. The thing that surprised me the most was AK's poor rating with his throwing. His rep is decent, I thought. I'm also puzzled by your OF alignment. I think I'd prefer Milledge in RF and Willingham in LF. Why do you reverse it?

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

@jca:

I'm a stats junkie myself, but I'd set those aside for the 'greater good'. If our best-three offensive alignment in the OF ends up as Willingham / Milledge / Dukes, or Milledge / Dukes / Kearns, I'll take it. An outfielder will generally cost a team fewer runs than a "no-glove" infielder would over the course of a season.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

@#4:

If Milledge doesn't have a CF arm (CF-to-plate), he definately doesn't have a RF arm (RF-to-3B).

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

BinM:

Understood, although I think the throws in CF are harder than RF. In RF you tend to be moving directly toward the base you are throwing to when you pick the ball up. In CF, to 3B anyway, the angle's a little dfferent. Also throwing home over the mound is always a little funky.

Nonetheless, I don't see any info that Willingham is better than Milledge. That's the comparative we're looking at. I asked jca to see if the stats answered that question. It's tough to know though because comparing a LF stats to a CF stats (Willingham '08 to Milledge '08) probably still wouldn't answer it.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

One other caravan item that might interest those who can't attend. Found out that MASN will air a Hot Stove Fan Fest special at 8 tomorrow night. Here's a link:

http://masnsports.com/2009/01/masn-to-air-one-hour-natsfest.html

If any NJ denizens are among the fans interviewed, give a shout-out. :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 24, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

@#4:

You're an ex-player / coach, right? Yes, throws from CF can be more difficult, because your angle is always changing (CF to cutoff, CF to 2B, CF to 3B, CF to plate). But in RF, you have to be able to make that 'on-the-fly' or one-hop throw to 3B consistently, when it's called for. Milledge (or Willingham, for that matter) hasn't shown the kind of arm strength that allows for that kind of throw.

Posted by: BinM | January 24, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

My guess on those arm ratings for Kearns is that his shoulder was killing him all year and he could not make the throws. I also think that killed his hitting. He may have a bounce back year and end up being tradeable. Note that I do not say "our right fielder for the next 8 years." I want to see vets like him traded in smart deals mid- summer. Nothing against him, but that is how restock.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 24, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

#4 - actually, I think those stats show Willingham to be about an average arm in left. I figure he could shift to the other corner. As between LF and RF, I'd rather have my weaker arm (Milledge) in left because the throw to third is a lot shorter from left than right. As for CF v RF, I'm more concerned about range than arm, which of course favors Dukes over Willingham.

Of course, if both Nick and AK are healthy, or if Dunn is signed, we may end up with Willlingham shuffling between 1st and right (or left). And if Dunn is signed, we have additional pleasant playing position problems.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 24, 2009 8:50 PM | Report abuse

BinM:

I don't understand what you are saying. Why do you "have to be able " to make the throw from RF and more than the throw from CF. I guess I'm just questioning the old baseball chestnut about how the strongest arm HAS to be in RF. As a coach, all things being equal, I always played my strongest OF arm in CF. The throws are more frequent and more difficult. I wanted the ball in his hands as much as possible. With big leaguers the game is a little different obviously and you have more good athletes; I'm just asking the question because I'm not convinced conventional wisdom is correct even on that level.

jca:

Just because JW has an average arm for a LF doesn't mean it's better than Milledge's. JW's being compared to the worst OFs while LM is being compared to the best. I just haven't seen JW play enough to know. One thing to consider though. It doesn't appear that JW has ever played RF on any level. Lastings played about 1/2 his games for the Mets in RF and played it some in the minors. That should tell us something, but I guess we'll find out in a few months.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

#4 - you are right about who is being compared to who(m) (where is the grammar lady when you need her?). I'm probably inferring something about their arms that can't be shown by the numbers I pointed to. All that one can say is that it probably makes sense to see if Dukes can handle center better than Milledge because Milledge had some obvious deficiencies there.

If Milledge is on the team (likely), then they have to find a place for him to play. I think he is closest thing to a leadoff hitter on the roster, especially long term. Right now, he is tracking very close to Johnny Damon at the same age in terms of OBP, average, and power. I'd settle for that kind of a career. If left is the least demanding OF position, then maybe we have to just play him there. His defensive numbers there with the Mets were no worse than right.

So, where's that leave Willingham, and who plays right if AK can't go? Here's where I get on my "sign Hinske" horse again.

5 OFs - LM, ED, AK, JW, and Hinske
6 IFs - FotF, CG, WH, NJ, AH, RB
2 Cs - JF, WN

12 Pitchers.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 24, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

I've always liked Hinske. He's seems like lunch bucket kind of guy. I'm not sure though he ought to be the everyday RF. I will give you though that he's played more games out there than I thought. He doesn't seem though like more than a 50-60 game in RF sort of player.

#4

Posted by: db423 | January 24, 2009 10:51 PM | Report abuse

It is true that Milledge did not demonstrate a good arm in center. He does have good range and in fact made a number of +plays (beyond average range plays) but it is also true that his arm and inability to go back on balls hit directly at him dictate that left field may be a better position.

Willingham has below average range and an average arm. He would not be an ideal right fielder. His best position is left.

Kearns arm was better in previous years. Whatever was wrong with him physically last year must have impacted his throwing as well. He has exceptional range in rightfield based on Bill James evaluations. His problem has been offensive, not defensive.

Dukes is the best all around player, his arm is the best on the team and he has above average range. Based on 2008 play in Tampa he can even be above average in center.

Harris has above average range in left, and has an adequate arm for leftfield.

Defensively the best outfield would likely be Milledge, Dukes, Kearns. Offensively the best outfield would be Willingham, Milledge, Dukes. Given the state of the offense and the current roster that's the one I think we can expect to see on opening day. But, I still think that the Nationals will complete another trade before the start of the season. If they can get enough for him, I think they might move Milledge. I'm not advocating that and I like Milledge, I just think when you consider salaries, trade bait, and relative strengths and weaknesses, that the Nats will consider it. Youth for youth. Outfielder for pitching or first base.

Posted by: natbisquit | January 24, 2009 11:11 PM | Report abuse

BinM

I don't object to a middle infield of Guzman and Hudson because of money. I object because I think having two aging overrated men in the middle of the infield is a step backwards for the organization. Especially when we started this post season with three viable middle infield prospects. Two were long shots granted but, that is still a better investment in the future than two guys who are only getting worse.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 24, 2009 11:28 PM | Report abuse

>Two were long shots granted but, that is still a better investment in the future than two guys who are only getting worse.

Guzman's average went up 50 points after he got his eyes fixed. You try hitting .310 on that sorry excuse for a team last year. You got no idea what you're talking about.

Posted by: Brue | January 25, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

NatsBisquit - my gut tells me you are right in your reads of most of the OFs defense. Just a guess, but you would figure perhaps Milledge's make up speed would help him with long run out of zone plays, while his difficulty with more routine balls hit at and over him would punish him with balls CF would normally get to. Just an inference.

I also think AK's problems throwing had to do with an arm injury. That also makes me a bit optimistic about better swings at the plate. I think a Nick trade, once he shows he's healthy (or a DL stint, once he shows he's not), solves most of the who plays where questions.

Maybe another thing to think about is the 2010 line-up. With Kearns gone, Dukes in CF opens a hole in RF. Would we rather look for RF on the market or pray that Maxwell, Bernadina, or someone else can internally develop to be CF? If we think long term Dukes is our RF and not our CF, then NatsBisquit's offense outfield makes sense. If we think Dukes is our CF (where he could be outstanding offensively and above average defensively), then maybe the defensive mix in the OF makes most sense, especially with a Nick trade.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 25, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Brue - Perhaps what Soundbloke meant was they are only going to get worse, which is a reasonable guess given their ages.

Hudson has already shown some sign of slipping defensively by range metrics and is coming off an injury. I don't see a 2 year plus option contract as a risk, and I don't see Furcal money as unmoveable if Espinosa or Gonzalez is ready by the tail end of 2010. Guz, of course, is generally thought of as a below average defender already. His hitting has come on, but if that average slips from .315 down to .290, he becomes a bit of a liability (.320 OBP with no power).

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 25, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

For the record, Kearns is among the league leaders in plus/minus on www.fieldingbible.com among RFs over the past three seasons. Naturally, Zimmerman is up there too, as is Top Chef. Corey Patterson and Nick Logan are among the leaders in CF (evidently Patterson is our new AAAA OF and potential late-inning defensive replacement). Dmitri and FLop bring up the rear at their respective positions (FLop has the distinction of failing miserably at short as well as 2b). And Adam Dunn is among the trailers in left, with a whopping minus-58, making him the 7th worst fielder in the game over that period, according to this stat.

Posted by: BobLHead | January 25, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Brue

There are no statistics to back up protection. You can believe in it if you choose to but, respect that I don't. Hudson is known to be slipping in terms of range and, Guzman is getting older. He also has no range and despite a high average does not do well in things like OBP. Both these guys are on the downward side of their career, and it is not a good idea for the Nationals to be paying for them when that skid becomes more apparent. Also, Guzman has had a horrific run of injuries up until next year, and he is carrying a lot of weight for a quick moving position. As you're so very clever I'm sure you know what rapid acceleration and direction changes of a heavy body does to joints.

We should not be signing these contracts, not because spending money is bad, but because they are bad investments.

See what I did there? I disagreed with you, and didn't call you stupid. Tempted though I was.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 25, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Do the Gnu

Posted by: CEvansJr | January 25, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

>There are no statistics to back up protection. You can believe in it if you choose to but, respect that I don't.

It's impossible to respect someone that doesn't understand the dynamics of a lineup and how that helps players individually. Because the opposing pitchers surely know who's on deck, and who's in the hole, and any way they can get three outs, they'll do it. Guzman's pitch selection couldn't be that bad if he's hitting such a high percentage. If he was consistently swinging at unhittable pitches, he would have a mediocre batting average. I can guarantee you that he saw fewer fastballs while hitting leadoff, because it's a fact that players get more of those to hit when someone's on base in front of them. That's the way it's been for 140 years.
You can cry about his body type all you want, and he was definitely fat when he first showed up here, but he's lean for his body type now. Sometimes aging is good in that regard, players lose baby fat and reach peak strength from 27-32 years of age. He's right in the middle of that age range. The last injury he got was a freak thing when his hand hit a helmet on a throw. Nothing horrific about that, it's pretty normal. There are very few shortstops that can hit very well, maybe it's a down cycle, but they seem to be getting smaller again after the Ripken-era when everyone thought they would all be 6'4". You got guys like Izturis, that can't hit a lick, and he's starting in Baltimore. You got Khalil Greene, who apparently has a bad attitude, making a lot of money. The list goes on forever. Renteria had as many RBI as Guzman, and he played for a better team last year, and got a big contract. You're not stoopid, necessarily, but you definitely post too much to be taken seriously consistently.

Posted by: Brue | January 25, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

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