Monday, March 28, 2011

Predicting the 2011 MLB Season

Carlos Quentin will overcome injuries in 2011 to win his first AL MVP

While this blog will always be Washington Nationals centric, that does not mean that we cannot take the time to discuss the upcoming 2011 MLB season. Without going into great detail, here is what For Love of the Nationals sees happening in 2011.

2011 MLB Predictions

AL East
1. Red Sox
2. Yankees
3. Rays
4. Jays
5. Orioles

Analysis - The Red Sox, with their acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford will prove too strong for the rest of their AL East foes. While the Yankees will be good enough to snag a Wild Card spot, the Red Sox will win the division going away.

AL Central
1. White Sox
2. Tigers
3. Twins
4. Royals
5. Indians

Analysis - For Love of the Nationals absolutely loves the 2011 White Sox. 1B/DH Paul Konerko finally has protection in the lineup in the form of former Nationals 1B Adam Dunn. Coupled with a young, but tested rotation as well as what this blog believes will be a massive season out of oft-injured Carlos Quentin, and the White Sox are a sleeping giant that is about to be awakened.

AL West
1. A's
2. Rangers
3. Angels
4. Mariners

Analysis - The A's? Yes, the A's! With a lights out rotation that should only be better in 2011 with a healthy Brett Anderson, the A's finally have the bats to compete in a very winnable AL West. Texas will struggle with pitching and injuries while the rest of the division will have problems even playing .500 ball.

NL East
1. Braves
2. Phillies
3. Marlins
4. Mets
5. Nationals

Analysis - We don't trust the Phillies, that is, until playoff times come. As for the regular season, the Braves should only be better than last year with an upgraded offense to compliment their solid pitching staff. Philly will make the playoffs, but they'll have to scrap and claw for the Wild Card spot.

NL Central
1. Brewers
2. Reds
3. Cardinals
4. Cubs
5. Pirates
6. Astros

Analysis - While Zack Greinke was the big addition to the Brewers this offseason, SP Shawn Marcum, acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason will be the real key to the Brew Crew's success in 2011. Also, don't be surprised if a focused Nyjer Morgan surfaces in Milwaukee and stabilizes their uncertain plans in CF.

NL West
1. Giants
2. Rockies
3. Dodgers
4. Diamondbacks
5. Padres

Analysis - The San Francisco Giants will win their second consecutive NL West Title with more outstanding pitching as well as an MVP season out of Catcher Buster Posey as well as the debut of monster rookie 1B/OF Brandon Belt.

AL Playoffs

White Sox over Yankees
Red Sox over Oakland

Analysis - The White Sox will be too much for the Yankees who just don't have the horses in the rotation to compete in October. The Red Sox make quick work out of the upstart A's as their pitching staff proves not yet ready for prime time.

AL Championship

White Sox over Red Sox

Analysis - In an upset, the White Sox take down the heavily favored Red Sox. Ozzie Guillen tweets that he's the best manager in the history of baseball.

NL Playoffs

Phillies over Brewers
Braves over Giants

Analysis - The Phillies, proving pitching is king, wake up just in time for the post season and sweep the Brewers behind Halladay, Lee and Hamels. The Braves offense is the key in this series. There will be no repeat of Brooks Conrad kicking the ball around the infield in 2011, Braves in five.

NL Championship

Braves over Phillies

Analysis - Pitching rules, but if your team has no offense, how are you going to win games? The Phillies are left asking that question as the young Braves take down their division rivals.

World Series

White Sox over Braves

Analysis - Ozzie Guillen is proved correct as the White Sox slug their way to a World Series Championship. Gordon Beckham and Alexi Ramirez prove to be a solid duo at SS and 2B, and the Sox bats are just too strong for the Braves to keep up.

AL MVP - Carlos Quentin - OF - White Sox

Analysis - One of these years Quentin has to stay healthy. Playing in a lineup filled with mashers, 2011 is finally the year Quentin avoids the DL... and proves to be the key cog in the White Sox title run.

NL MVP - Buster Posey - C - Giants

Analysis - Posey proved to be an offensive threat in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2010; in 2011, Posey breaks out into a bona fide Superstar.

AL Cy Young - Gio Gonzalez - A's

Analysis - Gio Gonzalez is a stud. In 2011, you'll finally know it. Armed with can't hit stuff, Gonzalez will cut back on his walks to bring the AL West their second consecutive AL Cy Young.

NL Cy Young - Tim Lincecum - Giants

Analysis - The Freak will be just that in 2011. After a 'down' year in 2010, Lincecum will return with a vengeance and a dedication to training that will prove to be the key to Lincecum's third Cy Young award.

AL ROY - SP Michael Pineda - Mariners

Analysis - Meet King Felix's new best friend. Pineda, who has torn up every minor league stop he's been at, just recently was named the Mariners fifth starter. Pineda will not disappoint while pitching in the spacious confines of Safeco Field.

NL ROY - SP Brandon Beachy - Braves

Analysis - Beachy, who beat out fellow prospect Mike Minor for the fifth spot in the Braves rotation will be a key ingredient in the Braves NL East Division winning run.

Comeback Player of the Year - SP Jeff Francis - Royals

Analysis - Francis, the former Rockies ace, makes his return after missing quite a bit of time with shoulder troubles. Though it is only Spring Training, Francis has flashed the skill that made him such a big part of the Rockies run to the World Series in 2007.

Breakout Player of the Year - OF Andrew McCutchen - Pirates

Analysis - Want to know who is the next big star the Pirates will trade away? Meet Andrew McCutchen. The Center Fielder, blessed with five tool skill, McCutchen is an absolute star in the making. Surround him with talent, watch McCutchen become one of the biggest stars in all of the game.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nationals petition MLB to remove OBP as an official statistic

In a stunning move, the Washington Nationals have petitioned the offices of the MLB for the immediate removal of On Base Percentage (OBP) as an official stat kept by Major League Baseball.

“The more we thought about it, the less sense On Base Percentage made to our organization” said an unnamed source within the Nationals front office. “We feel that batting average and playing the game the right way is a much better way of evaluating talent.”

Many in the baseball industry believe the petition stems from the Nationals choice to play former pitcher Rick Ankiel in Center Field. Ankiel, the owner of a lifetime .312 OBP would only be the latest hitter in a lineup filled with batters that have lower than league average OBP’s.

“With the likes of Dessi, Espinosa, Pudge and now Rick in the lineup, we don’t want the fans focusing on OBP; we want our fans to focus on what’s really important, looking good in our brand new Curly W uniforms” said the source. “You can find them in our team shop; they’re on the shelf right behind the Philadelphia Phillies jerseys.”

As of press time, it is not yet known where Ankiel will hit in the batting order, but at least one rumor has the Nationals considering a deadly 1-2 punch of Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel. Desmond, who posted the seventh lowest OBP (.308) in the National League in 2010, has said that one of his main influences as a hitter is former Nationals great Cristian Guzman. In what can only be described as a fitting tribute, Desmond has adopted Guzman’s approach at the plate and rejects the notion that OBP is what matters at the top of the lineup.

While it remains unclear if Major League Baseball will seriously pursue the Nationals petition to remove OBP, the club has found one big backer for their proposal, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker. Baker, a longtime believer in not “clogging the bases” is reported to be the first and only person to have signed the Nationals petition that was circulated around the leagues front offices Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nationals rank Second in operating income

Photo courtesy of arnaudt

Forbes has released their yearly MLB valuations, placing the Washington Nationals 16 out of 30 in terms of franchise value.

The Nationals, valued at $417 million dollars, posted revenues of $194 million dollars as well as an operating income of $36.6 million dollars, second to only the San Diego Padres at $37.2 million.

While it is not known as to what part of the income is then reinvested into payroll, scouting and other baseball ventures, Forbes lists the Nationals payroll at $85 million dollars, one million more than the $84 million dollar mark for the 2010 club.

Though it appeared the Nationals were big spenders this past offseason with their mega signing of Jayson Werth, most of the money they were spending came from the shedding of three of the team's biggest contracts in Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman.

All told, the Nationals saw an 8% increase in total team value from 2010 ($387) to 2011 ($417).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Maya: Where's the heat?

It appears the Washington Nationals may have been duped on their Cuban import.

Yunesky Maya, the Cuban defector who the Nats signed last year to a 4 year, 8 million dollar deal, was reported to feature a fastball that ran from 90-93 MPH along with an assortment of breaking pitches that had helped Maya dazzle Cuban hitters to the tune of a career record of 48-29 and an ERA of 2.51.

In 2010, Maya made five brief starts with the Nats, featuring a fastball that averaged out at 88.7 MPH; far below the 90-93 that was expected out of the 29 year old. To put his "fastball" into context, if Maya had managed to pitch the amount of innings needed to qualify for rate statistics, his fastball would have been the 16th slowest in all of baseball among Starting Pitchers.*

That is why, with great concern, that Maya's start against the Braves tonight needs to be looked at in greater detail. During the fifth inning of his outing, Maya topped out on his fastball at 85 MPH, most of his pitches sitting in the 81-83 MPH range. Quite simply, a right handed pitcher cannot survive with a fastball that slow, regardless if Livan Hernandez did it last year. Livo has an excellent two-seam fastball and a slow breaking curve that kept hitters on their toes enough to keep them from teeing off on Livan's pedestrian fastball.

So that brings us back to Maya. Where has his fastball gone? How can someone lose 3-5 MPH off their fastball and only be 30 years old? Is Maya hiding an injury (not likely), or, is it a case of the Nationals seeing a scouting report and choosing to believe it as gospel?

That's not to say that Maya has not held his own this Spring Training. In fact, quite the opposite. Yunesky has posted a 3.28 ERA while striking out 10 K in just 13.2 IP. While the Spring Training success is something Maya should be happy with, it remains to be seen if the lack of heat on his fastball will end up hurting him in the long run.

Yunesky Maya, a pitcher on the cusp of breaking out, or a case of false advertising? Only time will tell.

* - A total of 91 Starting Pitchers qualified for rate statistics in 2010

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Morgan takes lead in CF competition

For the first time in what seems like ages, Nyjer Morgan hit a home run today.

With the three run circuit clout, Morgan has muscled his way back atop the CF depth chart in the eyes of this blog.

It isn't just one home run that has set Morgan apart from his counterparts and temporary rivals, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel, it is a combination of things that has given him the slight edge in the three way horse race.

1. Morgan has shown the ability to get on base at a higher clip than Bernadina or Ankiel
Career OBP - Morgan .344 / Bernadina .306 / Ankiel .312 (.316 as pure hitter)

2. Last year, Morgan saw a drop in BABIP that severely deviated from the norm (.304 in 2010, .357 from 2007-2009). With the expected uptick in BABIP in 2011, Morgan should see a substantial increase in OBP.

3. Morgan avoids strikeouts at a much higher rate than Bernadina and Ankiel.
Career K rate - Morgan 17.1% / Bernadina 23.3% / Ankiel 27.1%

While there is still nearly two weeks left of games for Morgan, Bernadina and Ankiel to battle it out; as long as Morgan does not suffer another slump like he endured at the beginning of Spring Training, Center Field is his to lose.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Opposing runners picking on Jesús Flores?

It seems that the return of Jesús Flores from a major shoulder injury has not gone unnoticed by the opponents of the Nationals.

In what amounts to four games and some change of action behind the plate (42 innings), clubs have successful stolen five bases in five attempts against the recovering backstop.

To put that number into into context, the Nationals have used five catchers other than Flores in camp; Iván Rodríguez, Wilson Ramos, Derek Norris, Carlos Maldonado and Jhonatan Solano. The fearsome fivesome have combined for a total of 107.1 innings behind the plate. In those 107 innings, opponents have only attempted five stolen bases, successfully stealing three times.

In his three year career, prior to the debilitating shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of the 2009 and all of the 2010 season, Flores had thrown out 31% of all would-be base stealers.

It remains to be seen if Flores can return to his former status as a threat to gun down any and all that test him on the basepaths.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nationals second to last in Spring Fielding Percentage

The mantra from GM Mike Rizzo for the 2010-2011 offseason was clear; improve the defense.

Through 15 Spring Training games, the Nationals seem anything but improved, posting the second lowest fielding percentage in the majors at .963.

While many of the errors can be attributed to players that have no shot at making the Opening Day roster, one cannot help but worry that the offseason was spent talking, rather than doing.

The main culprit of the 2010 Washington Nationals defensive woes was rookie SS Ian Desmond, who led all of MLB with 34 errors. Despite assurances from the front office that Desmond was a leader and would continue to improve; his defense, if possible, has actually regressed so far. In just 10 games, Desmond has already posted four errors, twice as much as any other player on the roster.

One thing is clear, if the Nationals plan to improve in 2011, fielding the baseball has to be a big part of it. As of now, the Nationals are winning despite their fielding troubles. If they are to carry that over to the regular season, the results will not be so kind.

Friday, March 11, 2011

DC-IBWA releases pre-season predictions

The DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association (DC-IBWA) made up of independent journalist and bloggers dedicated to covering the Washington Nationals, recently released their pre-season predictions for the 2011 season. The panel of 19 was asked 12 baseball themed questions about the 2011 season and whom they expected to lead the Nationals in categories such as Home Runs, RBI, Wins and Saves.

To see the full results, feel free to click on the link below.