You asked me questions on Twitter. So I shall answer them.


We did the Twitter questions thing again last night. Let’s go:

Q: How do the Braves end up as “your” team if you grew up in WV, TBS?

Yep. That and an electric attraction to Andres Thomas.

Q: Will Ryan Braun be elected to start the All-Star Game even with the PED cloud over his head?

He’s still fourth overall in the voting and is the second-leading vote-getter among National League outfielders. Milwaukee draws a lot of fans and thus votes. I think he makes it.

Q: OK… Do the Cubs have ANY chance of finishing above .500 this season?

As of this this morning they’d have to 62-44 to make it. I think the odds of that happening are somewhere close to the odds of me winning the Cy Young Award.

Q: Umpires. Are they getting worse every year or is technology advancing so much we’re noticing their gaffes more?

I don’t know that we have any real way of measuring if they’re better or worse. I’m skeptical that they’re considerably worse and suspect that a lot of it has to do with the fact that we can see every mistake in high-def and watch it replayed like crazy on the web the next day. But saying “it’s always been bad like this” doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t improve umpiring. Jay Jaffe had some suggestions on how to do that yesterday.  They’re pretty darn good.

Q:  Rockies cut Moyer, sign Francis. Upgrade?

In terms of pitching? Probably. But they have taken a serious downgrade in metrics dealing with sitting around, telling people about how meat was rationed during the war while offering the children gross hard candies.

Q: So we’re putting the giant Morrissey poster in the foyer, right?

This is what happens when your girlfriend and you talk about moving in together. In other news.

Q: Just finished season one of Battlestar Galactica. Why is Baltar tormented? Hallucinating about Number Six does not seem like too poor an existence.

Oh, just wait, his torment become nice and justified later. And now, even though I just finished watching all of BSG last fall, I want to watch them all again.

Q: When a player is fined, where does the money go? The league? The team or union? Or (hopefully) charity?

There’s a central fund shared by all the teams. In some instances they go to charities. Really, though, the fine money in baseball is chump change, so it’s not like the league is getting rich off this or that charities are getting shafted. It’s like Major League Baseball’s give-a-penny, take-a-penny dish.

Q: Do you believe it’s even possible for any baseball player to dominate every day the way Richard Dawson did in Super Match?

Richard Dawson on Match Game was like Babe Ruth in 1920 crossed with Sandy Koufax in 1966. But at the risk of being controversial, there may not have been a better game show performance than Markie Post on Pyramid. Stone cold assassin.

Q: How many Altuves is Andrelton’s andrelton?

Based on the photographic evidence, I’d say it’s around 0.13845 Altuves.

Q: How does @norunsupport feel about your fascination with Andrelton Simmons’ junk?

I don’t think it bothers her or worries her nearly as much as the fact that I have a Madonna playlist on my iPod and listen to it fairly often bothers her.

Q: When the post about Bill Maher buying a share of the Mets went up, a lot of people replied with “another reason to hate the Mets.” Why do you think people with no vested anti-Mets rooting interest hate the Mets so much? They just don’t seem with the effort to me.

I don’t think people hate the Mets nearly as much as they love hacky jokes. The Mets merely provide an efficient vehicle for hacky joke delivery.

Q: If the Mets go into a slump, everybody’s going to blame Tuesday night’s game, aren’t they?

No, they’re going to blame Bill Maher for poor leadership.

Q: Did you ever have a personal one shining moment in little league?

Not really. I played baseball from age 7 through age 15 or so, and I was always kind of crappy. I could catch a little and I wasn’t an automatic out, but I was slow and was never high up in the batting order. Offensively speaking, the only highlight that comes to mind is the time when I was playing Babe Ruth ball and we faced some stud pitcher who had an amazing curve ball for his age and everyone thought it was the best thing ever. I knew I couldn’t catch up to his fastball, so I just decided to hope he bothered to throw me “his wrinkle,” as my coach called it. He did on the second pitch and I hit a double. I don’t remember ever hitting any other doubles. I think I was stranded at second base. For the rest of the game I acted all wise in the dugout, explaining to the other kids how to recognize that curve. I was completely full of crap, of course.

Q: Would you be interested in this Batman/Aquaman slash fiction I’ve authored?

No! Never! In fact I’m so appalled by the idea that you should just throw it out! If you can’t find an appropriate place to toss it, send it to and, um, someone here will dispose of it for you.

Q: Will Karolyi put Maroney on the team even though she is really only useable for one event? Will Utley ever play this year?

I think it’s more likely that McKayla Maroney plays second base for the Phillies — or Chase Utley makes the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team — than it is for Utley to play second base for the Phillies this year.

Q: Is Angel Hernandez always this incompetent, or just tonight?

I don’t even know what he did or where he was umpiring last night, but the answer is: yes, he is always that incompetent.

Q: What’s the most crazy? Pitt in 2nd, Dodgers in first, or Boston/Philly in last?

If by “crazy” you mean “unsustainable” I’d go with the Pirates. Unless you think that A.J. Burnett is going to continue pitching like and ace and the Buccos are going to continue to win despite having only one legit offensive threat.

Q: Name some of your favorite lines/moments from “Ball Four.” Where does it rank in your pantheon of baseball books?

There are so many. The first one that comes to mind is “A young girl asked one of the guys in the bullpen if he was married.  ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘but I’m not a fanatic about it.'”  The moments I like the most are the ones that tend to get overlooked when people talk about “Ball Four.”  Everyone mentions the stories about  Mickey Mantle and ballplayer carousing and stuff, but for me the best parts of the book are about Bouton himself, his desperation and just how aware he is that he’s close to losing his dream of being a ballplayer.  You can’t read the book without thinking of it as a man trying to come to terms with things. So much of the humor and so many of the observations can be read as Bouton in self-defense mode. It’s really affecting and the dynamic applies beyond baseball. In my case, I took a very similar stance with the law as I was leaving it, knowing I’d never be a partner in a law firm and trying my best to see it all with clear eyes.

Q: Aroldis Chapman on the mound, Batman at the plate. What’s the pitch-by-pitch breakdown?

[Pitch One]: Strike looking

[Pitch Two]: Strike looking

[Pitch Three]: Pitcher’s arm riddled with Batarangs, pelvis broke by kick to midsection, pitcher bound in rope, deposited on the steps of the Cincinnati Police Department with note pinned to him explaining how he orchestrated grand theft in Pittsburgh and facilitated a Cuban torture ring.

Q: What’s your favorite baseball memory?

Probably my first real one: watching Alan Trammell hit a home run against the California Angels in 1979. I was not yet six and it was the first game I remember attending. I thought it was the best thing that had ever happened. The Tigers (who were then my rooting interest) winning the World Series in 1984 and the Braves winning the World Series in 1995 didn’t even compare as far as what I felt and how I remember it. No lie.

Q: Old Shea or Hell?

Never went to Old Shea, so I guess I can’t say for sure. But I hear Hell is a dry heat so maybe it’s not that bad …

Q: The Twins drafted a ton of power pitchers, but their coaching staff is known for developing pitch to contact. Problem?

Nah. You can always teach a power pitcher to pitch to contact. The Twins play baseball the right way.

Q: If a tree falls in the woods, has @AaronGleeman kissed a girl?

Oh man, that’s cold.

Q: Give us a farfetched baseball prediction that could very well come true this year.

Cliff Lee goes all Private Pyle on the rest of the Phillies for not giving him any run support.

Q: Wilco, yeay or nay?

Yay, but I’m not a fanatic about it. I tend to like their older alt-countryish stuff more than the more recent things. “Being There” is my favorite. But honestly, I listen to Mermaid Avenue more than any proper Wilco stuff and “California Stars” may be my favorite song they’ve done ever.

Q: Should the Phillies be considering austerity at this point?

I think that’s out of the question. With all of the salary obligations they have right now they are To Big To Fail. I suggest a government bailout with the taxpayers picking up Ryan Howard’s deal. Oh, don’t complain Philly fans. You claim it’s not a bad deal, YOU pay it.

Q: Who would you rather have as a pinch hitter on the bench: Thor or the Hulk?

Thor. Hulk obviously has better power, but he strikes me as a three true outcomes guy. I’m guessing Thor has a way better on base percentage.

Q: Is the proposal for a more unbalanced schedule really a way for owners to cut overhead? Divisional foes are generally closer, right? Would those extra games represent sign. savings in travel expenses?

I don’t know that it’s travel expenses as much as it is TV revenue. When teams have to play more games on opposite coasts they have more games that start at funky hours for the home fans which likely leads to lower ratings.

Q: Any chance we can get a celebrity girls of baseball post? I like to stay informed, it’d be very boss of you.

Wait, are there any celebrity girls of baseball? And dude, if I wanted to whore for pageviews that badly I’d just do a 100-page slideshow of the worst Phillies contracts of all time. It would easily be more popular than a cheesecake thing.

Q: Who will be the better player five years from now: Trout or Harper?

Um, Harper the better hitter, Trout talked about as the more complete package and all-around player. But I think Harper will be enough of a better hitter to where this will be a Beatles-Beach Boys thing as opposed to a Beatles-Rolling Stones things.

Q: With Harper and Trout being the Batman and Superman of Rookies, does that make Matt Moore the Aquaman of the Rookies?

Look, I like the Beach Boys a lot, so that previous comp is not to take a thing away from Trout. But I wouldn’t lay Superman on him. Superman is great and all, but he’s so boring and that does not describe Trout at all.  And Moore is not Aquaman. Aquaman has repeated Double-A three years running and the club is considering converting him into a middle reliever or something.

That’s all for this week, folks. Now I’m off to watch more Markie Post videos.

2018 Preview: Washington Nationals

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.

The Nationals stood tall in the NL East last season, winning 97 games and taking the division crown by 20 games over the second-place Marlins. While the Marlins got markedly worse, the Braves, Mets, and Phillies – winners of 72, 70, and 66 games, respectively – made some improvements and should be more competitive. Still, this is a division the Nationals are heavy favorites to win despite a relatively quiet offseason.

Max Scherzer, winner of back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards, leads the rotation. The right-hander had the best year of his career, going 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a 268/55 K/BB ratio over 200 2/3 innings. Scherzer is now 33 years old but has yet to show signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s gotten better over the last three years, improving his already stellar strikeout rate from 30.7 percent to 34.4 percent.

Stephen Strasburg will follow Scherzer in the rotation. He made 28 starts instead of 33 due to an elbow impingement, but otherwise had a terrific season. He went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and a 204/47 K/BB ratio in 175 1/3 innings. He finished third in Cy Young balloting. Strasburg’s chances of winning a Cy Young Award are sadly slim since he not only plays in the same league as Scherzer, but shares a team with him. And, of course, there’s four-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on the Dodgers. Strasburg will settle for being an elite No. 2 starter.

The rest of the rotation features Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and A.J. Cole. Gonzalez was excellent last season, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 188/79 K/BB ratio in 201 innings. It wasn’t a flawless season as his walk rate at 9.6 percent rose to its highest point since 2011 and his fastball velocity dipped just below 90 MPH on average. And his strikeout rate, while solid, isn’t indicative of a sub-3.00 ERA. Gonzalez benefited from a .258 BABIP and a high strand rate at 81.6 percent, both factors that are likely to regress to the mean in 2018. Roark struggled to a 4.67 ERA based on a horrible strand rate at 66.3 percent, which is likely to regress in the other direction. Cole impressed across eight starts and three relief appearances, posting a 3.81 ERA in 52 innings. His control will be an issue – he walked 27 – but if he can master that, the Nationals will have a scary starting rotation.

In the bullpen, Sean Doolittle will get the lion’s share of save opportunities. The lefty spent his 2017 with the Athletics and then the Nationals following a trade, enjoying great results with both teams. Combined, he accrued 24 saves with a 2.81 ERA and a 62/10 K/BB ratio in 51 1/3 innings. Doolittle has been slowed by injuries in recent years, so that remains a concern going forward for the Nationals, but when he’s on the field, he’s a dominant closer.

The gap to Doolittle will be bridged by veteran Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. Madson, 37, continues to impress as he ages. Between the A’s and Nats last year, the right-hander posted a 1.83 ERA with a 67/9 K/BB ratio in 59 innings. Kintzler, between the Twins and Nats last season, finished with a 3.03 ERA and a 39/16 K/BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings. Kintzler hasn’t been missing many bats lately but has still been finding success inducing ground balls. Behind Madson and Kintzler, the Nationals will call on Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero, and a rotating cast of characters including Matt Grace and Sammy Solis.

Offensively, it’s hard to start anywhere but with Bryce Harper in right field. The 2015 NL MVP was limited to 111 games last season due to a knee injury suffered when he slipped on a wet first base bag. He was on his way to, potentially, another MVP award, as he finished the year batting .319/.413/.595 with 28 home runs and 87 RBI in 492 PA. The 25-year-old is in his final year of club control and is expected to test free agency after the season. He’ll be hoping to lead the Nats to a World Series beforehand.

Michael Taylor will handle center field. The speedster swiped 17 bases while hitting .271/.320/.486 with 19 home runs and 53 RBI in 432 PA last season. Taylor is also outstanding defensively, giving the Nationals nothing to worry about at this position.

Adam Eaton will finally return and handle left field. The 29-year-old played only 23 games last year after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus. He has been eased back into action this spring but is expected to be fully ready by the start of the regular season. When healthy, he provides speed and defense while hitting for a high average. In 2016 with the White Sox, he stole 14 bases while hitting 29 doubles, nine triples, and 14 home runs in 706 plate appearances.

Moving to the infield, MVP candidate Anthony Rendon will handle third base. Rendon was one of the best players in baseball last season, accruing 6.0 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference. He batted .301/.403/.533 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI while playing terrific defense. It was certainly a career year for the 27-year-old, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect similar production in 2018.

Trea Turner will stand to Rendon’s left at shortstop. He put up average offensive numbers but stole 46 bases in 54 opportunities. Turner can also play in the outfield or at second base in a pinch. He’s only 24 years old, so there’s plenty of room for growth. He has the skillset of someone who could develop into an MVP candidate.

Daniel Murphy was expected to reprise his role at second base for the Nationals, but he still hasn’t gotten back to 100 percent after undergoing a debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee last November. He has been limited to batting practice and fielding grounders hit directly at him. The Nationals hope he’ll be ready at some point in April. For now, veteran Howie Kendrick will handle second base. Kendrick, 34, had an excellent 2017 campaign, batting .315/.368/.475 across 91 games with the Phillies and Nationals. The Nats are certainly glad they signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract in January.

First base belongs to 33-year-old Ryan Zimmerman. After a forgettable 2016 season, Zimmerman made some adjustments – and was healthier – to lead him to one hell of a bounce-back year. His OPS in 2016 was .642; in 2017, it was .930. He made a more concerted effort to put the ball in the air, resulting in 36 home runs and a .573 slugging percentage. It seems like a reasonable assumption that Zimmerman can repeat those results. Needless to say, the key to another big season for him is staying healthy.

Matt Wieters, coming off of a down year, will be the regular catcher once again. In 123 games last season, Wieters hit .225/.288/.344, easily the worst offensive performance of his career. He still played good defense and handled the pitching staff with aplomb, so it’s a position at which the Nationals can accept subpar offense. He’ll likely be backed up by Miguel Montero with Pedro Severino waiting in the wings.

FanGraphs (89) and PECOTA (88) are both projecting fewer than 90 wins for the Nationals. I’m usually one not to stray too much from the projections, but that feels light to me. The Nationals won 97 games last year and the club is arguably better, getting Eaton back. Murphy probably won’t be out for too long and a lot of the outstanding performers from 2017 should be expected to be excellent again in 2018. I’m straying from the projections here.

Prediction: 96-66, first place in NL East