Thursday, September 18, 2008

At Least in 2004 They Didn't Have an Owner

Do you hear that sound?

A rush of air, the squeak of hinges. We all brace ourselves for the inevitable KABOOM!

Yes, the door of opportunity for the Washington Nationals to establish themselves as a real baseball team worthy of the love of a long-baseball-deprived fanbase is quickly closing. Once it actually slams shut, it won’t be easy to re-open.

Just ask The Tampa Bay Rays. After hanging out in the AL East basement for their first 10 seasons of existence, not even the dream season they’re experiencing in 2008 has been able to fill the seats at Tropicana Field. That door has been closed too tightly for too long to just fly open because of a sudden burst of pennant fever wind. Scott Kazmir has lamented the empty seats repeatedly in interviews with the media. The team notices. ESPN notices.

Since coming to Washington in 2005, the Nationals have had a WORSE RECORD than the franchise posted during their last 4 seasons in Montreal:

2001: 68-94
2002: 83-79
2003: 83-79
2004: 67-95

Winning %: .465

2005: 81-81
2006: 71-91
2007: 73-89
2008: 57-93

Winning %: .443

Losing is one thing. Losing at a worse clip than your ancestors who were owned by Major League Baseball is unthinkable. Let’s examine the 2001-2004 Expos for a second to drive this point home.

At the close of the 2001 season, the Expos were on MLB’s chopping block. After a losing season in which their attendance had fell to an average of below 8,000 per game, The Expos were widely rumored to be one of two teams headed for contraction after club owners 28-2 to disband two teams. Before the start of the 2002 season, Expos owner Jeffery Loria purchased the Marlins from John Henry, and bolted to the Sunshine State taking with him all of the Expos front office, management personnel, and even office equipment. Major League Baseball then bought the team for 100,000,000 from Loria and, contraction having failed because of some clever legal maneuvering by the City of Minneapolis to keep the Twins alive, MLB was forced to try to run the Expos in 2002. Frank Robinson was brought out of retirement to manage the club. Omar Minaya was made the GM and given a 35 million dollar budget with which to do business.

The team was in contention for much of 2002 In July, with the trading deadline looming, Minaya made a blockbuster move to acquire Bartolo Colon from Cleveland. In exchange for Colon, Montreal parted with Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore. It’s hard to argue with conspiracy theorists when they assert that the trade was a deliberate attempt by MLB to sink the future of the Montreal franchise, facilitate contraction, and enrich the team, Cleveland, of one of the 29 men who “owned” Montreal.

The 2003 Expos also contended for a playoff birth. Rather than sinking the fortunes of the Expos through a one-sided trade, MLB torpedoed their pennant chances by forbidding Minaya to call up fresh players from the minor leagues during September. Citing financial restrictions, the Expos made do with their 25-man roster until the bitter end of 2003. They finished 8 games behind the wild-card winning Marlins. Critics in the national media lambasted MLB for a “conflict of interest” for having the Expos competitors control the franchise’s purse strings.

In 2004, as in 2003, the Expos played a large chunk of their games in San Juan Puerto Rico. Unlike the 2003 squad, the 2004 Expos did not challenge for a post-season berth. By mid-September, MLB announced that the Expos would move to Washington, DC for the 2005 season. The team finished in last place.

Since moving to Washington, the Nationals have returned to private ownership, moved into a bright new ballpark, and played 2 ½ seasons totally free from the artificial financial constraints imposed by MLB.

And the team has S-T-U-N-K.

Injuries certainly deserve some of the blame for the debacle which has been the 2008 season. Every position player but one who started for the Nationals on opening night has spent at least 15 days on the Disabled List. No amount of planning could have warded off the injury bug.

But, it is mind boggling to think that the 2007 and 2008 Nationals have been finished with at least 10 fewer wins than the 2002 and 2003 clubs which were either A) deliberately being driven into the ground by MLB or B) for the slightly less cynical, operating under ungodly financial restrictions. It appears that even the vagabond 2004 team will have had more wins than the 2008 Nationals.

Think about that for a second. The 2008 Washington Nationals will finish with a worse record than their 2004 counterparts who had 2 homes, 29 owners who had no reason to want the team to win, a 35 million dollar operating budget, and an unsure future.

How is that possible?

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Meaningless Statistical Inquiry

Something has been bothering me all summer.

No. Not Jamie Walker's ERA, WHIP, or HR:IP ratio. More here

No. Not the fact that my Red Sox fan roommate could watch her team thrice weekly thanks to ESPN's decision to become the State TV network of "Red Sox Nation"

No. Not the fact that the Reds traded Ken Griffey Jr to Chicago ONE DAY BEFORE they came to Washington for a 4-game series.

No. The thing that has bothered me all summer is the strangely low RBI total of Orioles left-fielder Luke Scott. Don't get me wrong, Luuuuuuuuuuuke has been having a fine season and I contend that the Orioles got the better end of the trade last december which brought him to Charm City. But, for a man with 21 homeruns to his name, his current RBI total of 58 seems small.

It's a meaningless stat, but, Scott's RBI:HR ratio is 2.762. I did some checking, and, I was shocked to find that his ratio is actually far from the lowest in baseball.

Several notables have much lower numbers such as:

Pat Burrell of Phillidelphia: 2.567
Adam Dunn of Arizona: 2.514
Marcus Thames of Detroit: 2.136
Hanley Ramirez of Florida: 2.103

And the lowest of anyone with at least 15 homers to their name...

Scott Hairston of San Diego: 1.824 (17 Homeruns and 31 RBI)

By comparison, Bobby Abreu of New York has a 5.600 ratio (15 HR and 84 RBI). Next highest is Justin Morneau who with 21 dingers and 109 RBI is rocking a 5.190 ratio.

Obviously alot of things contribute to the huge gap between Abreu and Hairston. When he starts, Hairston often bats leadoff on a bad National League team. His chances of coming up in good RBI situations with men on base are much lower than someone like Abreu who bats near the middle of a very potent Yankee lineup. Batting behind Derek Jeter and in front of A-Rod certainly boosts Abreu's RBI totals while not forcing him to hit alot of homers.

Its the place in the lineup/quality of lineup argument which caused me to ponder Luke Scott's totals. The 2008 Orioles, for all of their well-documented flaws, are an offensively potent team. Scott has spent much of the season batting behind players such as Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis, and Melvin Mora who are enjoying excellent 2008 campaigns. However, having seen that Luke Scott compares closely to noted run producers such as the aforementioned Dunn and Burrell, I will leave the matter alone.