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Measuring The Worth/Myth Of Infield Practice

OK, let's address the infield practice issue. Some of this is my own commentary, but much of it comes from talking to players/management/front office. Maybe the conclusion I offer is kind of grim, but it's also a sober view from the ground level. Infield practice is not gonna save the Washington Nationals, just like the back-up quarterback isn't gonna save the Detroit Lions. There is no simple solution here to a team that, from the very beginning, was constructed with zero attention to defense. The Nats signed Adam Dunn because they fell in love with his bat and were willing to live with his glove. They traded for Josh Willingham because, at the time, they needed somebody -- anybody! -- who could hit 20+ homers. They re-signed Cristian Guzman, with defensive skills in decline, because Jim Bowden had a tendency to overbid on his own success stories. They gift-wrapped a job for Lastings Milledge, not just because they overrated his skills, but because they had ZERO natural centerfielders on their 25-man roster.

So, these are the shortcomings that Washington must overcome.

Most of the team's defense deficiencies -- probably 60- or 70-percent -- were guaranteed from the get-go. Even Mike Rizzo admitted today that the team's front office overlooked defense when constructing the team this offseason. "I think there's some validity to that, yeah. I think our concentration was on trying to score more runs and becoming a more potent offensive team." But Rizzo also said, "the unexpectedness or the degree of the defensive decline is what is surprising and frustrating."

So this brings us to the other 30- or 40-percent of the defensive problems. The problems that aren't as easy to explain.

Alberto Gonzalez was touted as a defensive wiz. He then made six errors in fewer than 100 innings at shortstop.

What about Anderson Hernandez? He has five errors, and probably about five more defensive gaffes where he should have been charged for pure air-headedness.

Ryan Zimmerman has six errors. Nick Johnson has five. These are supposed to be Washington's best fielders.

"Isn't Nick a good first baseman?" Manny Acta asked today. "He's got five errors. Isn't Zimmerman a great third baseman? He's got six. And they're working. So, you tell me? Keep on working. Keep on working. Because it's gotten better than what it was. What are you going to do -- cross your arms and that's it? We just have to keep on working, doing whatever it takes and hopefully it will get better. The guys that are making errors are good defensive players."

Now before I get on with the analysis, let's hear from some players. I'm not certain there is even a consensus on 1.) what is wrong and 2.) what can be done to fix it. Most insist that the effort is there. Some, like Ryan Zimmerman, think the effort is there -- at least with most individuals. Nobody I spoke with, to a man, had a negative word to say about the manager or the coaching staff.

"Manny is not making errors," Ryan Zimmerman said. "Manny's not turning double plays, he's not striking out. When it comes down to it, it's each and every person's fault in this room. Individually, we all have to do better. I think some people need to look in the mirror and realize if they don't make a change or continue to work and get better then somebody else is gonna get a shot, because what do people have to lose around here? If they bring somebody in who hasn't played before it's not like we're gonna lose more games."

Here is what Josh Bard said:

"I've never been through anything like this, just seeing a team like this continue to lose but almost never get blown out. You know, it's a tough thing. I think we've got guys that are competing, but we have to play better. That's a fact. We practice a lot. You've got to catch the ball. This is the freaking big leagues. There are plays we're not making that, you know, you can't win games when you have those done. It's the whole team. We've got to do better. This is a freakin' do-good league, it's not a try-good league, and I know that we're freakin trying our a--es off. It doesn't matter; you've got to play better."

Now, let me address the infield practice issue. I don't want to totally dismiss something that people tend to romanticize, but infield practice is not a panacea. At best -- at the very absolute best -- it's a frequent and symbolic reminder to players. A reminder to think about defense. A reminder to care about defense. But infield practice has very limited returns when it comes to shaping/improving a given player's skillset. The Nats take infield practice or perform what they call "fundamentals" drills before every home game. Because of the logistics during road games, they usually receive time only to take BP. Thus, the Nats take some form of infield before 81 games in a year. (Since you've been wondering.) Today, though, they made an exception, had an optional batting practice, and conducted the full-swing infield practice.

Infield practice (not just Washington's, but any team's) does such a poor job replicating in-game defensive scenarios that it's almost laughable. I watched it closely today. Take a guy like Ryan Zimmerman. He'll stand at third base and field four grounders. He'll make four throws. That's it. Or take a guy like Adam Dunn, in right. He'll charge four grounders, rollers right at him. He'll throw one to second. He'll throw one to third. Then he hits a cut-off man. Then he throws home. That's it.

The sort of balls that drive Washington crazy -- high flies in the outfield corners; quick-hit double plays -- are the sort of things that infield practice doesn't replicate. Or help.

"We've been doing [infield practice] at home all the time," Acta said before today's game. "This is the first time we're doing it on the road. We are playing bad defense, so maybe what we're doing at home is not enough. But I don't think taking infield on the road here and there is gonna fix it. You only throw four throws during infield; you do more than that in batting practice. You don't hit flyballs during infield. You just hit four balls on the ground to make guys throw."

I wish I had some brilliant way to conclude this commentary. Now that I've gotten this far -- with some wandering literary route that resembles the path a Washington outfielder takes to a flyball -- I fear I don't. Other than to say that Washington took infield practice today and still lost the game because of three defensive plays. If catcher Josh Bard hangs onto a relay throw during a tag-out play at first, and if Anderson Hernandez finishes off the second leg of a double play in the fourth, and if Austin Kearns tracks down a deep Ryan Howard fly in the seventh, we might still be playing baseball right now. Or maybe the Nats could have won, 2-1. And I could have written about the team's inspired defense, jump-started by those pre-game drills.

By Chico Harlan  |  May 31, 2009; 7:15 PM ET
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Next: Acta And Some Reading Links


with or without practice the nats still field with the greatest of E's.

Posted by: surly_w | May 31, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

"Why does bad baseball cost so much in Metro Washington? Why isn't Adam Dunn a DH in the American League?

Posted by: chantillyjack"

So, you enjoyed your $5 seats in Cincy. How did they compare in location with your $60 seats in DC? Not as good, were they? Perhaps you should check out the $5 and $10 seats in DC (they do exist) and see how they compare with your Cincy seats. Apples to apples and all that, y'know?

Posted by: nunof1 | May 31, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Chico, JayBeee has a short attention span. He'll never read all this.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 31, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

I like Acta personally, but what is he doing that a computer program couldn't do for a few bucks?

Posted by: p-man | May 31, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

I waited 34 years for the return of baseball to Washington. I was expecting Major League Baseball, not the atrocious product we're witnessing daily. The Potomac Nationals would probably perform better than this "Major League" crew. I always agreed with Tom Boswell that any baseball would be better than no baseball. I'm reconsidering. I've been a full season ticket holder since the Nats arrived in 2005. I'm reconsidering that too.

Posted by: UnionStation | May 31, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

What the Nationals are proving on a daily basis is that defense can't be discounted in the National League. The former general manager had a hankerin' for having an offensive threat at every position with little or no regard as to whether these players like Dunn and Willingham could actually play passable defense. The equation of young starting pitching who need all the help their fielders can provide pitching in front of this defensively challenged outfit is yielding results that probably could be expected. How many balls hit to the outfield that might have been converted into crucial outs have landed untouched? How many times when a pitcher coaxes a tailor-made out ground ball to and infielder has that chance been bungled? The Nats have too many "four-tool" guys who can't play major league average defense, which apparently was the elast important tool for the deposed general manager to consider. But there is hope....after the season when the likes of Kearns, Belliard, Johnson, Cabrera, Dmitri, Wells, Tavarez, Colome, Villone, and Bard will hopefullybe gone and either Rizzo or his successor can bring in some players who have all five tools who can help the young moundsmen.

Posted by: leetee1955 | May 31, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse


we're still waiting.

Posted by: surly_w | May 31, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse


How long do they take infield when at home. I have heard from Radio guys and Dibble that they take 20-30 Mins....That is not enough. Your own writing tells me they are taking some form of infield light. Zim taking 4 balls is not a full infield if this is what you and Acta think working hard is then no wonder it is not working. They need to be on the field for 2 hours working on defense before home games....yup that means getting to the park around 1 PM.

Reading Zim's quote I do not get anything like what you do out of it. He is saying guys are not working and unless they chance now then AA and AAA guys should be brought up. How you get everyone is working hard out of what Zim said is beyond me.

Bottom line is Acta has no clue how to work the team. You do not role balls right at he Dunn if you want him to improve. Take you pitchers and put them on the base paths and work. God it is like you never played the game Chico....How long was today's defensive work out? 30 Mins?

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

It's about doing what you've got to do effectively. All comes back to Manny. Every guy can say he's got to do better but when guys (whether they realize it or not) figure it's an organisation wide problem they tend to lose individual responsibility. "Hey I ain't the only guy tankin' out there... ".

That's where Manny has to step up and make this all his problem and view his own success based on the success of every single guy on the team. That's how you get out of these situations. He's not going to reach every guy. Some guys can't be helped. But RZim? Nick? Come on...

But he can't... he doesn't know how...

Says he draws on his "experience" as a minor league manager... that says it all.

Soon we're going to be calling him the Dan Quayle of MLB managers...

Posted by: SaveOurTeam | May 31, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Chico, what you've described--the 4 grounders/4 throws stuff--is not real Infield.

Someone in an earlier thread today posted something about Jimmy Rollins saying that the Phillies infielders take 250 ground balls per day. That is real Infield. You work on situations too, like turning the DP. It does keep your sharp. You are right, 4 grounders and half-hearted tosses across the infield have no impact. And look at the results...

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | May 31, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Chico,what a load of garbage. This is just a continuation of the same "we all got to play better" stuff that permeates the FO,the Dugout staff and some of the MASN booth crowd. I'm not interested in their execuses, I want management to say enough is enough. Do the Lerners and StanK have any idea the damage they are doing? In a town where the margin of fan attention is slipping from an alread fragile fan base, the lack of attention to detail is astounding.

Jimmy Rollins told Harold Reynolds and Barry Larsen on MLB Network this AM that the Phillies on avg take 250 balls with infield practice everyday, including communicating, positioning and relays. Last time I checked its working for the Phillies.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | May 31, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Exactly is not even worth reading Chico's writing...He does not have a clue what baseball is.

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

20-30 minutes of infield practice, 4 grouders to each infielder, no fly balls hit to the outfielders during practices, and not situations played out during practice. No wonder the team's fielding stinks.

Posted by: bigmook | May 31, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Exactly is not even worth reading Chico's writing...He does not have a clue what baseball is.

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 7:50 PM


Good thing we have people like you here to educate us, huh, JayBeee?

Posted by: baltova1 | May 31, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

"So what is the Over-Under on Dukes paying the legal fees he owes by June 5th -- or if not, going to jail?

At this point,Bigmook, jail might seem preferable to being on this team!

"God, grant me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Betcha Neibuhr wasn't a Nats fan! Go Nats....

Posted by: zendo | May 31, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Maybe this is all for the best. Whenever we start winning a few games and it looks like we might start playing well the Axe Manny talk dies down and everyone starts thinkin' maybe he'll be ok (or at least maybe the FO does). If we have to keep losin' to get rid of Mannyactacular (it's cathing!) then so be it.


Posted by: SaveOurTeam | May 31, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

I had tougher fielding practices with my Church League slow-pitch softball teams.

Posted by: bigmook | May 31, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

CiL I was watching MLB Network around 9AM this AM and that is exactly what Rollins told Reynolds and Larkin. The story line was about how well the Philles play as a team in the field. Rollins, Utley, Victorino, even Ryan Howard are consumate professional ballplayers and as a Nats fans that makes me sick to have to admit that.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | May 31, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey Sorry if you think I am being heavy handed but honestly....4 ground balls roled at Dunn and Zim......and our beat writer is telling us that the this is not the problem.....Sorry that is clueless.

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

if axta does get axed, i hope the nats bring in john stearns to manage the rest of the season. after manny, this team needs someone with a presence in the dugout. foli might be too combustible at this point for this team.

Posted by: surly_w | May 31, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Chico....ask Barry to look over this post and comment please.....god I miss him....

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure the Phils have had less turnover on the field as we've had. Whenever you've got the same 4 guys (taking the infield for example) playing together all the time you're going to get better results. That means we need the practice even more...

Posted by: SaveOurTeam | May 31, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Ok, so it is not a practice issue, so what is it? I have to think it has something to do with attitude and discipline. Neither of which Acta gives a crap about. The players reflect the losing laid-back attitude of the manager. For example,Hernandez tends not to charge slow-hit ground balls. On another team, they would tap him on the should and say, you know Anderson, how about coming toward the ball like you were thought in little league. If he didn't listen, it is bench time.

Posted by: Tom8 | May 31, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse


Don't really care what your opionin is but I do want you to report Fact.....How long was the practice today and how long is the home practice.....under 30 mins right?

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

"Ok, so it is not a practice issue, so what is it?" How about talent? How many Nats everyday players would start for the Phillies? Zimm, maybe Flores? How many of our starting pitchers would be in their rotation? How many of our relievers would be in their bullpen?

A lot of people in the Philadelphia media thought Charlie Manuel was a complete idiot and wanted him fired a few months before the Phils won the World Series. Guess all of that infield practice must have made him a better manager.

Assuming Manny gets fired (which probably will happen soon), how long before we start complaining about the new guy and how he's not showing the right attitude out there?

Posted by: baltova1 | May 31, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

JayBeee, if the Phillies take 250 grounders a day and do it in 30 minutes, that's about 8 grounders a minute or one every 7-8 seconds. Sounds about right.

You do realize that Jimmy Rollins himself is not taking 250 grounders a day, don't you?

Posted by: nunof1 | May 31, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse


Manny Must Go!

Posted by: Section505203 | May 31, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Your move, StanK and Lerners. This carnival has got to end.

Fire Manny Monday.

No excuses.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 31, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

First Off; A Trade: Strasberg(if we sign him) for Justin Upton of the D-Backs straight up. Now the blog topic, this team is obviously mired in a horrendous slump so as Ray Knight said on Nats Xtra on MASN they're thinking too much its as if they are waiting for something to go wrong he also disagreed with Dibble about the merits of every day infield practice. Johnny Holiday chimed in saying that certain players in today's game have a sense of entitlement and that some of them lacked a work ethic that is essential for success in today's game,that being said I think a change in the dugout is long overdue Clint Hurdle was fired earlier this week and he managed the Rockies to a World Series appearance a couple of years back tell me what's the justification for keeping Manny?

Posted by: dargregmag | May 31, 2009 8:34 PM | Report abuse

@dargregmag: "First Off; A Trade: Strasberg(if we sign him) for Justin Upton of the D-Backs straight up."

I don't know why this doesn't sink in with this crowd. The point has been made over and over and over again:



Posted by: shepdave2003 | May 31, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Okay, if we're going to criticize the players for not being able to handle the fundamentals, the same applies to us.


Posted by: baltova1 | May 31, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Can't trade draft picks in MLB. Can't trade drafted players for one year after they are drafted and signed.

Learn to listen, listen to learn.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 31, 2009 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Who could possibly have a sense of entitlement on a team heading toward 120 wins?? Over half the team only has one year contract. What entitlement do you think they have? Ask Villone.

Posted by: ecmdfan | May 31, 2009 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Sports is supposed to be a diversion. I'd say we are getting all that and more with the Nats. They're making monday mornings and going to work a pleasure, just to get away from that diversion.

Posted by: cokedispatch | May 31, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

shepdave2003, I wouldn't have yelled if I knew your were going to handle it.

People, why are spending so much time screaming for Manny's head? Do you really look at this team and think bad managing is holding them back? Take a little of that anger and focus it on the one guy involved in this organization who's got a proven track record and should know what to do to put together a good team? And if you don't want to go over Kasten, look at the people making the final decision (and writing the checks).

This is a badly assembled team (offense at the sacrifice of defense, inexperienced starters, terrible bullpen, awful fielding) put together on a restricted budget.

Given that managers aren't the ones who put together the roster and they don't set the budget, Manny Acta really isn't the problem. Attitude isn't the problem. And fielding practice sure isn't the problem.

Posted by: baltova1 | May 31, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

ABM....wrong...Jimmy is take 250 a day.

Posted by: JayBeee | May 31, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Section 505203 syas it well.

Bard does also, when he syas that it is a play well not a try well MLB he's in. Acta is not even trying hard though. He HOPES that players find extra motivation, he WISHES that they would do the small things to win, he PRAYS that somehow, magically, they will get it right.

Acta cannot get Ronnie Bellaird to cover first on a bunt. HE picked Lastings to play CF, not b/c no one (Dukes, Maxwell, Bernadina -- if it was about catching the ball, Acta could have picked some kid that ctahces first hits later), but he didn't.

Other than "it is on us", what the Hell is Zim supposed to say: "The manager's lost us. He does not support us on the field, he blames our bad play on something and someone new every day. The coaches have not been effective. Our game plans are not working. I think Manny expects to lose and his reaction to losing is to shrug and hope it gets better, but it does not. We're tired of losing and we'd love for someone with more of a pedigree to come in here and shake it up." ???

Anyway, Chico, I have a problem with: "They re-signed Cristian Guzman, with defensive skills in decline, because Jim Bowden had a tendency to overbid on his own success stories." The market for SS's when Bowden made that deal was more Dollars and more years. There was no overbid whatsoever. The blame JimBo for it all just needs to stop. Playing bad fundamental baseball is not the GM's fault.

Posted by: dfh21 | May 31, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Acta is Spanish for "Apathy". He's a carrier, he needs to go.

Posted by: dfh21 | May 31, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

"At best -- at the very absolute best -- it's a frequent and symbolic reminder to players."

For this team it could be viewed as a well deserved punitive measure. If one player makes an error, official or unofficial, the whole team spends an hour or two running defensive drills. Frank Robinson would have made the Nats clubhouse the most miserable place on Earth if his team was losing this many games.

As far as the weak infield practice as described by Acta, clearly more is needed, maybe even classroom type lessons to fix the problem of players constantly being out of position.

Thanks for addressing the issue.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | May 31, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the back and forth about infield practice (which is worthless for the Nats), Acta's management or lack thereof just ignores the basic overriding theme of the your 2009 Nats - they are a bad baseball team. That's it period, no sense in sugarcoating it. They were built in a haphazard way with no thought to the future or any part of a plan. The FO needs to get cracking now - have a good draft, trade Guzaman, NJ, and Dunn while they still have value and get some players who can grow with this team. I can't tell you just how barren the high minors are right now, and that needs to be addressed asap.

Posted by: bendersx6 | May 31, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Alright gang, here's my fanciful suggestion #2.(Remember, I'm the guy who said the solution to our woes is to switch owners-Snyders for Lerners and-presto! both DC teams are improved!)
You know how we keep churning our players back and forth between the minors and the majors?
And how the "organization"-and many of us(ok, a few)-seem to think that Acta will one day be a superior skipper....hopes he's still here when we get the talent or he gets the skills?
We need someone with fire...
The team is steadfast (or too cheap) on keeping Manny? see where I'm going, right? Send MANNY down to AAA! Bring up Fiery Tim Foli from Syracuse! Viola! Manny gets the seasoning away from the bright lights, maintains contact with our future stars. Foli comes up to provide a change, a wake-up, maybe some swift kicks...
C'mon, it's perfect! Because whatever Mannys' shortcomings, no human on earth could be responsible for the way this team is playing. And in his defense, the fact that he hasn't run screaming into the night shows that the guy has some fortitude, some qualities that should (one) day make him a guy capable of....something. In the meantime, for his sake as well as the teams, send him down to work on his game. It'll help Lastings get back on track, too!

Posted by: zendo | May 31, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Zendo - That is definitely a new take on how to resolve the problem. Interesting. I am not sure I am convinced that Manny is/will be a good manager, but the part about bringing Foli up to kick some butt, just might help.
And as far as the talk that more infield (and outfield) practice won't help, I respectively disagree. I played the game (a good number of years ago), and saw and experienced first-hand what practicing and the lack there of did for ones performance on the field. More and serious practicing won't turn Dunn into Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle (or for you younger folk - Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones - in their primes) defensively, but it can help make him at least competent in the OF. And the lack of enough practicing can explain why good fielders like Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman have 5 and 6 errors respectively. They need to practice or the skills diminish.

Posted by: bigmook | May 31, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

And BTW, I think we will play a crucial role in determining who wins the NL East. Vs. the Mats(as is the door variety) Philly:8-2...NYM:5-1.....since they have more games remaining against us, I'd have to say that I favor the Metropolitans. They'll also probably have the added incentive of helping us eclipse the '62 Mets for holding the "worst record in history-modern version". Hmmmmm...go Nats

Posted by: zendo | May 31, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Oh, one other thing that more fielding practices - promotes (actually 2 other things)
1. Confidence in your ability to make the play.
2. Team work and familarity with how your team mate(s) are going to respond (ex: cover the bag when they are suppose to) and perform.

Don't underestimate the power of practicing on the individual and overall defense performance of a team.

Posted by: bigmook | May 31, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Not to rain on everybody's hate parade, but a team with the lineup we saw today isn't going to ever have a very good chance of winning. Pitching seems to be stabilizing at "poor" which is a ton better than the "war crime" it was at. Put Guzman, Dukes, and Flores in the line-up, and maybe we have as good a chance as losing as winning.

Now, when do we expect those three back? You want to feel sorry for yourself, there's the thing to do it on.

Posted by: Section506 | May 31, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

All that said, we still need a "true" Centerfielder. And it would be nice to get a Catcher who can throw a baserunner out stealing - Flores will do just fine when he gets healthy, and a good. consistent fielding Shortstop.

Hey, what if we moved Zim back to Shortstop? He played there in college. It would be painful at first - while he gets used to it again. And don't we have a decent 3rd Baseman in AA or AAA?

Posted by: bigmook | May 31, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

The Phillies (like most teams) limit their starting pitchers to about 100 pitches every 5 days. Yet, according to some on thie blog, they ask Rollins to take 250 ground balls every day (presumably make about the same number to throws too). Forgive me if I'm skeptical. I doubt the Phillies would risk injury to one of their key players by asking him to make 1,500 throws per week, during infield practice. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Posted by: grforbes | May 31, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Jimmy Rollins may or may not take 250 grounders a day. Personally, I doubt it. But whether he does or whether he doesn't, I still wouldn't fire Manny Acta on account of that.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 31, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I still want Manny fired tomorrow, but the last two posters are right: this team looks like it was assembled by someone experimenting with psychotropic drugs, antifreeze and a quart of Jack Daniels.

The best teams are built up the middle--pitching, catcher, shortstop, second base and centerfield. That's where to place your best players.

Then you "sprinkle" so-so talent around the corners, first, third base and corner outfielders.

Naturally, this sad sack bunch seems to be assembled in just the opposite fashion. We have a surfeit of big, slow corner outfielders, decent corner infielders and practically nothing up the middle and in the bullpen.

And that, ladies and gents, is how you get to be 13-and-36. It's no accident.

Why not fire Manny Monday, if not for the illusion that StanK and the Lerners are trying to do something?

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 31, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Another BTW, folks...a week or so ago the NY Times had a nice piece on Nolan Ryan and his belief that pitchers need to throw MORE to avoid injury-not right away, mind you but his "old school" beliefs sounded pretty accurate to me.
Also. stats guru/godfather Bill James was quoted that, vis a vis evaluating a prospect stats should be about 5% of the equation while a professional scouts' take the other 95%! Go Nats...

Posted by: zendo | May 31, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

How many times this year do we have to watch Manny with the same express on his face. No matter what the situation he stands there. It is like he doesn't know how to manage and he is not getting any better at it. Time to cut he loose.

Fine example, bottom of the 9th vs. the O's last Sat. He doesn't pinch hit for Josh Bard. WHY? He still had Nieves on the bench and did not try to win the game. This team is not that bad, really they are not.

Posted by: sazzwho | May 31, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Practice. We're talking about practice?

Posted by: jfromPG | May 31, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

All of this fielding practice debate is taking away from the real issue at work here - how impossibly gutless and indifferent this career loser is.

Chico stop babying this frigging nothing and take him to task. He's not your boss, stop acting like he has some power over you writing these BS apologist posts about the merits, or lack thereof, of fielding practice. He didn't have them prepared coming out of Spring Training, he makes repeated boneheaded in game moves, and he never stands up for his own players. He's an overmatched bench coach career minor leaguer who very obviously can't manage in the big leagues. Just because he's a nice guy doesn't mean he's the next coming of Terry Francona.

I predicted 95 losses before the season and was mocked, but even getting there will be a huge chore at this point. What a complete disgrace. Detroit Lions of baseball, get used to it.

Posted by: RickFelt | May 31, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

I could care less what Acra has to say about his former club. I guarantee you he has managed his last game for the Nats. Thanks Manny but, Goodbye

Posted by: prknguy | May 31, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

I guarantee you he has managed his last game for the Nats. Thanks Manny but, Goodbye

I agree, prknguy. But I don't know about the guarantee. You know something we don't?

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 31, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Zimmerman's UZR is still 5.9. It's obvious that the defense has been atrocious, but errors aren't the way to judge that. Errors are simply a judgment call by the official scorer (which is also why ERA is a poor statistic).

Posted by: Vladman1327 | May 31, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Poor fielding is just the icing on the rotten cake. How about terrible owners including Kasten, a clueless manager, the worst pitching staff in MLB, lack of clutch hitting and lousy baserunning?? This team is rotten to the core.

Posted by: bupbups | May 31, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Chico, you're doing a great job (and your job can't be easy right now). Some of these angst cases here do not understand what journalism is, and they would prefer that you take our their aggression for them by writing a hit piece about Manny Acta, full of vague charges regarding infield practice. Boy, that would show Manny, wouldn't it? Give Chico a break, people.

Posted by: hooverama | May 31, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. What Chico's giving us here is a strawman. "Well, they won't get any better with dopey infield practice."

OK. The work on hard infield practice. Set up a pitching machine to hurl 90mph grounders into the hole.

I play 1b on my softball team. I'm not much good -- it's a softball team. Last year I had a crappy infield around me and we had a lot of shorthops. So I bought a buddy a 6-pack and had him throw me shorthops for an hour. I got better. Now, I know it's apples and oranges, but it's still fruit.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: Section406 | May 31, 2009 10:31 PM | Report abuse

"Not to rain on everybody's hate parade, but a team with the lineup we saw today isn't going to ever have a very good chance of winning. Pitching seems to be stabilizing at "poor" which is a ton better than the "war crime" it was at. Put Guzman, Dukes, and Flores in the line-up, and maybe we have as good a chance as losing as winning.

Now, when do we expect those three back? You want to feel sorry for yourself, there's the thing to do it on."

Posted by: Section506

I will grant this to you, 506. However, not being able to adequately play one's position in the field is leading to a great many of these losses. It's the scores of errors in fielding, baserunning, pitch selection that is galling, and yes, preventable. There is a great gap here in what the players on the field are capable of doing and what they ARE doing. This team is simply not prepared to take the field every game. It is not just Manny, it is all of the coaches that are tied to these players that are not getting the most out of them. Is fielding practice and drilling the magic bullet? This would be a good place to start. Raise your hand if you think four grounders per position is adequate practice. Our outfielders act like they have never played a ball over their heads, ever. Hmmmmm, must be a drill for that. The way to get out of this pathetic team play is for the team to actually work at it, hard, often and long. Thirty minutes? A freaking joke. Working at it is the option that is not being taken, and it surely shows. The problem is that the Nats act like jobs are not at stake, for the players and the coaches.

Posted by: driley | May 31, 2009 10:41 PM | Report abuse

I say put Section406 at second base instead of numbskull Hernandez.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 31, 2009 10:41 PM | Report abuse

So let me relate infield practice to a classroom...

Next year I should tell my 6th grade class that they should only do 4 4th grade Math problems every other day (to take into account slow rollers and only "home dates"). If the students perform badly on tests I simply say that my class was "poorly constructed" with strong Language Arts (Hittin) in mind and that there's really no statistical evidence that continuing to do only 4 4th grade math problems every other day has any statistical significance for improvement.

Maybe the problem isn't that the Subject isn't worthwile to practice, but that the teacher (Acta) doesn't know how to TEACH or construct a good lesson...

If this scenario was your child's math teacher, you wouldn't simply make an excuse of saying it was a "poorly constructed" class and then after interviewing the students they say, "homework doesn't really help" concluding that practice or homework is overrated.

Acta needs to be fired ASAP. He might not be the one failing the math test, but he is the one responsible for teaching, reviewing, and reinforcing the importance of Fielding. Maybe Acta did inherit the "special ed" class but not practicing shouldn't be the answer.

Posted by: PNatsFan | May 31, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

I have no idea if more or better infield practice would help the Nats, but the idea that what Chico described is "infield practice" is hilarious. Maybe Jimmy Rollins was puffing, but let's assume the Phillies' infield together, not individually, takes 200 groundballs every day, not 250 Even if eight players are involved, not four, that's 25 each. And the Nats' practice is four each? Seriously??

Do the Nats practice turning double plays? Do they practice trying to throw out basestealers at 2nd and 3rd? Do they practice pickoff plays? From Chico's description of "infield practice." I guess not. Maybe we can send a spy to watch what the Phillies do to figure out what a major league team should practice....

Posted by: Section222 | May 31, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Bench Dunn. Bring up Langerhans to start in RF (and LF when Dukes gets back). Call up Corey Patterson to play CF.

Langerhans-Patterson-Dukes represent an upgrade in defense.

Bench Guzzy, bring up Cintron, he's a better glove.

Ok, I'm not serious. Its easy to criticize and throw stones, but what solutions, aside from firing Acta, do some folk have?
Dunn has never been an above average defender--I'm not even sure he can be average, he is what he is. And I'm sure he cares about being better and from all accounts he works at it. Same goes for Willingham, never a great glove.

The bulk of the blame goes to the person--Bowden--who put this bunch together.

But seriously, how many of you want to see Langerhans, Patterson, Cintron (or similar types) like that in the lineup? Do you really think the Nats would win more games?

Posted by: jfromPG | May 31, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

I agree Bowden is chiefly to blame; but he's gone.
StanK and Lerners aren't going anywhere, and you can't fire all 23 players not named Zimmerman, though it's tempting.
So what's left? One huge empty suit in the dugout with the sub.-380 career winning percentage: Manny.
Manny must go. Monday.
Chico, start the firing watch. Stay on this guy. No way he should be on the bench for Tuesday's game. Bring up Tim Foli. Now.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 31, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

It was said on the broadcast today that Ryan Howard works with a coach individually to improve his defense at first base, which SURPRISE! he has actually done. He knows he'll never win a gold glove, but he also knows with work he can get better. I don't know if that is just pride about being around a group of good infielders and he doesn't want to look bad or if his manager makes his do this, but if it is pride where is that pride and leadership on this team?? Who, if not directed to by Manny, is going to step up and say "Hey work with me more to help me improve?" From the player comments, it doesn't sound like anyone on the team thinks it's worth it, and that is sad, and I'm sorry I can't help but think they are buying into their manager's attitude about practice.

Posted by: skippy1999 | June 1, 2009 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Oh and what is that BS Manny spouted about on the road it's harder logistically? Why? Have a team bus pick up everyone an hour earlier if you need to until your team can go a week without committing an error, you cannot tell me with what these players are being paid he can't tell them "I don't care if you want to sleep in til 12:00, you will get here an hour earlier and practice!"

Posted by: skippy1999 | June 1, 2009 12:09 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who harps on infield practice is a fool and is just looking for a reason to persecute Manny Acta. That's what fools do. They look at a team that's losing and find a scapegoat under the guise of "holding someone accountable". First it was the bullpen, but they've been decent lately so now someone else must be to blame. Why not the manager? What a joke you all are. Be realistic. The team as currently constructed is not good enough to compete. Also, I might say that I've noticed a certain degree of bad luck (you can't deny the impact of luck in sports... take the 05' Nats for example), but good teams find ways to overcome that luck, this is simply not a good team.

...Infield practice. So laughable. You think Adam Dunn is going to get better at snagging deep fly balls from infield practice? Adam Dunn is who he is. I guess you also think Shaquille O'Neal could become an 80% FT shooter by doing a 20 minute shoot around before games. LOL.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | June 1, 2009 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Honestly, what can you say about this mess? A team that is approaching historical depths, despite more talent here and there than many Washington teams of the past. Geez, we need a Walter Johnson. Please, somebody, help us. This is very, very hard to take.

Posted by: nats24 | June 1, 2009 1:18 AM | Report abuse

Chico is not looking at the big picture. Again, and again symptoms not the cause of the disease.

The cause? Losing. Losing is contagious. Its like the "new age" mantra / "wandering philosophy" that says that "negative thinking" tends to attract more of the same ... and worst catastrophes. "Freaking" Mr. New Age "inscrutably stoic" Acta really SHOULD KNOW THIS!!!?

Its not about missing fly balls. Dunn has to be better than Ron "freakin" Swoboda? Were the outfields under Frank Robinson that much better defensively talent-wise? The infields? I think not!!!!

Its the losing that's the problem. It has to stop. Acta has to find a way to STOP THE LOSING NOW! Or resign!!! Move aside for a new manager willing to attack this bull by the horns for criminy's sake! The franchise is at stake ACTA!?

Do I have a solution? No, I can only impart what Viktor E. Frankl had to say about this. When everything seems hopeless, and you have no control over it ... there is still something you can control: AND THAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE Manny Acta! Frankl had great experience with this in 3 different "campuses". Better known as CONCENTRATION CAMPS! By controlling your attitude by knowing there is meaning in what you are doing ... even if you did lose every single game left in the rest of the season ... there would still be meaning in trying your best, in knowing that you can play this game, that you and your team are good. No matter what! Transcendence is achieved, fielding suddenly improves, consistent RBI producing hitting in sync with consistent reliable pitching. It all comes together.

STOP LOSING. STOP believing you are losing or are losers. Turn it around. As the man said, what have you got to lose at this point? This isn't as bad as a "freakin'" concentration camp, and if Viktor Frankl ould find meaning and transcend in spite of losing everything ... so too can you! Be a man for criminy's sake!

Posted by: periculum | June 1, 2009 2:00 AM | Report abuse

Its all about attitude Manny. And that is your own self-proclaimed talent, your rationale for being a better major league manager than Hall-Of-Famer Frank Robinson. If you can't even do what you are purportedly good at?

Posted by: periculum | June 1, 2009 2:06 AM | Report abuse

Chico, infield practice(and outfield, for that matter)is more than just a "reminder" to players. It's about muscle memory. I don't care how long you have played, if you don't practice the way you play you cannot be sharp. Yes, Zim and Nick are great fielders, however, like everyone else I know of from this planet, they need repetition to be at their best. No, infield practice won't solve everything, but to dismiss it as only a reminder is just plain wrong. That being said, I have to compliment you on both the style and content of your reporting. You're the best that we've had around here in a long time.

Posted by: truke | June 1, 2009 6:27 AM | Report abuse

You know, they don't have to change things up. It is their business to run, after all. But, unless you have small children who have been looking forward to going to see the Nats, you should be ashamed of yourself for going out there and giving them any more of your money.

Posted by: rgibson25 | June 1, 2009 7:12 AM | Report abuse

periculum, I didn't know you could get any stupider. Baseball has nothing in common with Frankl, it is JUST. A. GAME.

Posted by: Section506 | June 1, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

From the horse's mouth. Manny Acta's MASN blog post on a typical day in the major leagues. Sounds like a lot more than four grounders to me. Does Jimmy Rollins do all this and take 250 grounders too?

Posted by: nunof1 | June 1, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Lets take care of the real fact from fiction.

1. The Philadelphia Phillies infield takes on avg 250 ground balls prior to batting practice everyday, thats around 50 grounders to each infielder. (Source Jimmy Rollins as told to Harold Reynolds and Barry Larkin on MLB Network Sun 31 May 2009 @0900).

2. Chico Harlen is a reporter, the job of a reporter is to ask questions, gather facts and put it in his own words for editing and then to press. (UVA Journalism 201-1979)

3. Manny Acta deserves no special treatment, he is a laundry list of excuses, and who really cares what he has to say anymore. Apparently since StanK was much more aggressive with dissing Svurluga when Barry rightfully so went after StanK about his best kept secret "season ticket sale numbers", Chico has been playing it right down the middle with the current crop of excuses & lies.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | June 1, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Dibble's post-game tirade on "entitlement" reminded me yet again why I prefer to listen to the games on the radio.

Posted by: TWTIB | June 1, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

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