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The Day When Everybody Is In The Best Shape Of His Life

Clearly, I am a spring training newbie.

"Want some sunscreen?" hitting coach Rick Eckstein asked me today, just around 11 a.m., as I followed him to the batting cages.

"Nah," I said. "I put some on earlier this morning."

Well, now I'm up in the Space Coast press box, and sunburnt. Viera is hot today, maybe 80 under direct sunlight, and it feels like an oven rack... or a panini press.

Anyway, it turned out to be a beautiful morning for all of the day's baseball-related activities -- namely, batting practice (with Eck, Nick Johnson, Willie Harris, Jesus Flores and a few others), and the obligated pitcher-catcher reporting. Today is the day by which pitchers and catchers must "report" to camp. Reporting can be as simple as a phone call to the clubhouse manager, so it's not like everybody has to show his face. That said, almost every P and C is at camp. According to a hot-off-the-presses 2009 Nats roster, the team is expecting to have 32 pitchers and six catchers in camp this spring. Clubhouse attendant Mike Wallace is keeping a list of those players who he has physically seen.

I just matched up the full P/C list with the list of players that Wallace has seen in person, and hereby present to you -- accurate as of 2:10 p.m. -- the list of Washington's pitchers and catchers who have yet to materialize at SC HQ:

Luis Atilano. Marco Estrada. Gary Glover. Preston Larrison. Shairon Martis. Jorge Sosa. Terrell Young. Gustavo Chacin. Odalis Perez. Oh, and catcher Javier Valentin.

Everybody else is here, or at least was here earlier today.

On a day like this, a certain anything-is-possible vibe extends from player to player, locker to locker. As the Nationals reconvened after a winter apart, certain guys looked in better condition, plenty felt healthier, and in the end, that formed the basis of their conversations.

Two snapshots.

Jason Bergmann: After finishing the 2008 season in a rut (and in the bullpen), Bergmann decided to focus with greater intensity on offseason conditioning. "Well, I think it was the kind of decision I needed to make," he said. "I should have done it earlier in my career, and I regret not doing it." He joined a gym in Viera. He found a trainer, an ex-military guy named David Rivers. Bergmann worked mostly on his core, his abs, but you can see now that he's a lot more square across the chest. Oh, and he shaved his head. That was a big decision, too. He got sick of people pulling his leg for the premature balding, so he flipped a coin -- heads or tails -- and decided that if it fell on heads, he'd go with the Mr. Clean look. The coin landed on tails. Bergmann shaved his head anyway.

Kory Casto: He added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. The lean, sinewy player of last year is hidden somewhere under a lot of new bulk. I overheard a few guys talking about it yesterday, in fact -- 'Hey, you gotta see Casto.' Well, today I saw. Evidently, he decided that if his future lies as a bench player, he might as well have some pop. "If I'm going to be a role player," he said, "there's no point in trying to be lean. Speed has never been my thing anyway. I might as well thump." As he spoke, Casto had some kind of Russian iron "kettle bell" -- it looked like a remnant of a shipwreck -- right next to his locker. "I used to run on treadmills in the offseason, do distance running," Casto said. "I stopped that. It was lunges, shuffles, stuff for explosiveness. Ninety minute workouts. Here's the guy he worked out with: Dave McHenry.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 14, 2009; 2:48 PM ET
 
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Comments

First of all, good story today, Chico. In the accompanying picture, we can get a good sense of how Bergmann has bulked up a little. And the shaved head looks good.

Man, if Bergie can come in throwing strikes, that really creates a wonderful problem for the Nats.

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 14, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Chico,last year several players arrived late because visas had not come through - what is the situation this year?

Posted by: Traveler8 | February 14, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Saywhat - Casto bulked up? And Bergmann has ab definition? Borderline players from las season that show up four months later in great shape? Given the current overall media/Investigation climate, I might say "Rut-roh, George", as MLB asks these two to "Please come with me & pee in this cup".
I'm just sayin'...

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Somehow, the air is a little sweeter today.

An important question after the enthusiasm of last spring is: what are realistic expectations for 2009? As everyone remembers there was quite a bit of general enthusiasm last March that made for a horrible crash by, well, April.

Over the course of this week I'm studying the Spring Training players of 2009 and 2008 to try to better understand what has changed since last year. I'm looking at the VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) for each player for the previous season, but only the previous season.

This won't account for career fluctuations, but this is as much a study in our expectations as in the team. This also means players who did not play last year get stuck with a 0 - in essence, they are the replacement player. In some cases, I think you will agree that that is too generous, in others, it is woefully shortsighted. But decisions must be made and this is the best way I can think of to normalize.

Today, we'll look at the pitchers:

----

2009 Pitchers
3.3 (102.7 for 31 players), 5.1 (VORP only, 20 players)

Roster VORP: 4.6 (87.0 for 19 players) / 5.4 (VORP only, 16 players)
Non-Roster VORP: 1.3 (15.7 for 12 players) / 3.9 (VORP only, 4 players)
# of Roster over 10: 5 (.263 / .313)
# of Roster over 20: 2 (.105 / .125)
# of Roster w/ no VORP: 3 (.158)

----

2008 Pitchers
4.2 (151.5 for 36 players), 6.3 (VORP only, 24 players)

Roster VORP: 8.3 (141.7 for 17 players) / 9.4 (VORP only, 15 players)
Non-Roster VORP: 0.5 (9.8 for 19 players) / 1.6 (VORP only, 9 players)
# of Roster over 10: 9 (.529 / .600)
# of Roster over 20: 2 (.118 / .133)
# of Roster w/ no VORP: 2 (.118)

My analysis and extended data to follow

Posted by: Section506 | February 14, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

2009 Pitchers, Data Set
*(apologies to those who hate stats)

40-man
Luis Atilano --
Collin Balester -1.4
Jason Bergmann -3.7
Daniel Cabrera 8.5
Matt Chico -3.3
Tyler Clippard 1.5
Ross Detwiler --
Marco Estrada -4.9
Joel Hanrahan 13.4
Shawn Hill -6.7
Mike Hinckley 7.6
John Lannan 27.2
Shairon Martis -0.8
Garrett Mock 6.2
Mike O’Connor -7.0
Scott Olsen 20.7
Saul Rivera 12.1
Steven Shell 17.6
Terrell Young --

Non-roster
Bobby Brownlie --
Jesus Colome 7.1
Gustavo Chacin --
Justin Jones --
Preston Larrison --
Wil Ledezma 3.0
J.D. Martin --
Odalis Perez 15.3
Jorge Sosa -9.7
Josh Towers --
Ryan Wagner --
Jordan Zimmermann --


2008 Pitchers

40-man
Luis Ayala 11.2
Jason Bergmann 15.0
Matt Chico 10.5
Tyler Clippard -0.9
Jesus Colome 12.2
Chad Cordero 17.1
Ross Detwiler 0.7
Joel Hanrahan -2.5
Shawn Hill 20.6
John Lannan 5.6
Garrett Mock --
John Patterson -5.4
Jon Rauch 19.0
Tim Redding 19.0
Saul Rivera 20.8
Chris Schroder --
Ryan Wagner -1.2

Non-roster
Mike Bacsik 2.4
Collin Balestar --
Rob Bell -1.2
Eude Brito --
Bobby Brownlie --
Tristan Crawford --
Michael Hinckley --
Ray King 2.2
Katsuhik Maekawa --
Charlie Manning --
Arnie Munoz -.07
Michael O’Connor --
Odalis Perez 2.6
Brian Sanches --
Steven Shell --
Josh Smoker --
Jason Stanford 2.6
Dennis Tankersley --
Jim Ed Warden --

Posted by: Section506 | February 14, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

@506:

Raw #'s are great, but who are the players considered under each category? You don't have to give us the individual player splits, just the overall (w/names), please?

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm right with you, 506 (although a lot less quantitatively): The biggest question as the team kicks off 09, IMO, is the starting pitching. Data sets make my brain hurt these days... what are the summary statistics from your analysis?

I think we know what we're getting from Lannan. I also think expectations are reasonable for the kids, JZ and CB. The uncertainty lies with Hill, Olsen and Cabrera, who could each go for 5 or 15 wins, which is a HUGE delta. I don't know what, if anything, can be answered in ST, but starting with a healthy Hill is a good start.

Posted by: natinbeantown | February 14, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

My Thoughts:

*I was really disappointed at the reduction in Average VORP (VORP Review: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VORP). 4.2 down to 3.3 is a 21% reduction, which is not the sort of thing a young team wants - particularly since we've got a lot fewer players trying out.

*The loss of Redding and Rauch from last season immediately stands out as a big reduction. But Rauch's loss, ultimately brought Olsen, who is about the same, so it's really only Redding's departure.

*Bergmann, Chico, and Rivera all turned in performances significantly worse than their 2006 season, lowering Average VORP, but the worst disappointment was Shawn Hill. In retrospect, I would say the numbers this year are closer to their real VORP.

*Lannan and Hanrahan held up their ends of the deal and are, together, a large part of the average VORP. Both years, we have so much young pitching, it makes sense that it's so fluky.

Posted by: Section506 | February 14, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

BinM, I put them in separate posts to make the non-data inclined's eyes bleed less. Is it showing up now?

beantown, I spent twice as much time debating how to break up the pitchers - especially deciding who would be on the staff - but ultimately declined to go beyond roster and non-roster invitees, because the staff, for us, is such a tenuous thing. Remember Hanrahan was considered a starting pitcher just last year.

Posted by: Section506 | February 14, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

@506:

This is a perfect example of why a single statistical should not be isolated.
If we evaluate based purely on VORP, then Colome should be on the 2009 roster ahead of Bergmann, Chico, Estrada, Martis, Mock, & O'Conner, but behind Hanrahan, Hinckley, Rivera & Shell.

Do you really wnat to see (or hear) this again... [bottom of 6th inning] "now pitching for the Washington Nationals, Jesus Colome"?

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

For people wanting a better handle on this VORP number:

*The pitcher with the highest VORP last season was Cliff Lee with 76.5

*Last of 700 rated by Baseball Prospectus was Luis Mendoza of Texas with -31.6

*A few pitchers in 2008:
Eric Gagne 1.1
Tim Redding 7.1
Jonathon Papelbon 20.1
Oliver Perez 21.5
Jamie Moyer 39.7
Ben Sheets 51.7
Livan Hernandez -4.7

Posted by: Section506 | February 14, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

See my caveats in the original post. I didn't think I'd been away so long that anyone could forget my love, nay need, for many, many statistics.

But in crunching this many numbers, I don't have time to use more than one stat. Thus VORP.

Posted by: Section506 | February 14, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Qualitatively, which would you take?

2008: Hill, Redding, Perez, Bergmann, Lannan, Chico, Clippard, Patterson (w/major injury uncertainty)

2009: Olsen, Lannan, Cabrera, Balester, Zimmermann, Chico and Hill (both w/major injury uncertainty)

While I'm a fan of the stability of an inning-eating vet like Perez or Redding, I'd have to say this year's staff has more potential to be good, and we'll hopefully see a lot more starts going into the 7th.

Posted by: natinbeantown | February 14, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Looking at the photo, I wouldn't say that Bergmann's bulked up, but he is starting to look like an athlete. That's a positive change. Not sure how Casto managed to put on 15 pounds of muscle in four months, but he was on the skinny side -- swimming in his uniform. With a little more pop in his bat, Casto could be a big plus. With Dunn and Willingham in left, he won't get any regular time, but it's a chance for him to prove he belongs in the bigs. If there are any injuries, he might become the go to guy.

Posted by: fischy | February 14, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

@beantown:

From a qualitative viewpoint, the projected 2009 staff (Olsen, Lannan, Cabrera, Balester, ???) beats the 2008 staff (Perez, Redding, Hill, Chico, Lannan) hands down. If the new staff can just learn how to win a close game, all will be well.

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

NEW

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 14, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Did y'all mean "quantitative"?

From a qualitative viewpoint, I'd take Joey Eischen. Hands down.

Posted by: Hendo1 | February 14, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

BinM says Bergman and Casto are using steriods: C'mon, dude! Are we that impressionable and suspicious that when an athelete actually takes his job SERIOUSLY we shoot to discredit them right away? Start refusing to be spoon fed your opinion by the media circus and pay more attention!

I personally worked out with Casto this off season and I'll tell you how he put on fifteen pounds of muscle in (five) months: Pure balls. Severe dedication to his workouts (and meals) and a work ethic that won't allow him to quit until everyone he's with has thrown in the towel. His constant challenging himself to push harder and hurt more.
If you are going to insinuate illegitimate behavior, pick a player who ISN'T out there three weeks before everyone else working his butt off.

Posted by: PDutro | February 18, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

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