Extra Life 2014 Marathon Livestream!

Extra Life is finally here! We’ll be streaming on Twitch all day, join us in the chat! Below is a list of all of the available games, let us know what you’d like to see us play!

You can donate to our efforts here, do it for the kids :). All donations will directly benefit Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC! If you need any further information on Extra Life go here.

Check out the reward raffles donors unlock as we hit milestones. ALL donors are eligible to win ALL items as long as the amount has been raise cumulatively!

Later in the day we will have a Google Hangout stream as well when we start playing Wii U games.


Games Available


  • Alien Isolation
  • Awesomenauts Assemble
  • Battlefield 4
  • Counterspy
  • Child of Light
  • Destiny
  • Diablo 3
  • Disney Infinity 2.0
  • Don’t Starve
  • Entwined
  • Fez
  • FIFA ’15
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
  • Flower
  • inFamous: Second Sun
  • The Last of Us: Remastered
  • Madden ’15
  • Mercenary Kings
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • MLB14: The Show
  • NBA 2K15
  • NHL ’15
  • PixelJunk Shooter
  • Resogun
  • Road Not Taken
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Soundshapes
  • SportsFriends
  • Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark
  • Steam World Dig
  • Strider (2014)
  • The Swapper
  • Towerfall Ascension
  • Transistor
  • Trine 2
  • Valiant Hearts

Wii U

  • Donkey Kong (NES)
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
  • Dr. Luigi
  • Earthbound (SNES)
  • Kirby’s Adventure (NES)
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
  • Pikmin 3
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • Super Maio World (SNES)
  • Super Metroid (SNES)

Xbox One

  • Forza 5
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Super Time Force
  • Trials: Fusion


  • 10,000,000
  • Alan Wake
  • Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • And Yet It Moves
  • Antichamber
  • Aquaria
  • Arma 2
  • Arma 2: British Armed Forces
  • Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead
  • Arma 2: Private Military Company
  • Arma 3
  • Assassain’s Creed II
  • Assassain’s Creed Brotherhood
  • Assassain’s Creed III
  • Atom Zombie Smasher
  • Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition
  • Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition
  • The Banner Saga
  • Bastion
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  • Battlefield 3
  • Binary Domain
  • Bioshock
  • Bioshock 2
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Bit.trip Runner
  • Bit.trip Runner 2
  • Borderlands 2
  • Braid
  • Broken Age
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • Brutal Legend
  • Bulletstorm
  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
  • Burnout Paradise
  • Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
  • Capsized
  • Cart Life
  • Castle Crashers
  • The Cave
  • Cave Story+
  • Cloudberry Kingdom
  • Cogs
  • Command and Conquer 3: Uprising
  • Company of Heroes
  • Company of Heroes 2
  • Counter-Strike
  • Counter-Strike: Condition Zero
  • Counter-Strike: Condition Zero Deleted Scenes
  • Counter-Strike: Source
  • Crusader Kings
  • Crysis
  • Crysis 2
  • Crysis 3
  • Dark Souls
  • Dark Souls II
  • The Darkness 2
  • Darksiders
  • Darksiders 2
  • Day of Defeat
  • Dead Island
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Dead Space
  • Dead Space 3
  • Deadlight
  • Deadly Sin 2
  • Dear Esther
  • Deathmatch Classic
  • Dishonored
  • Divinity: Original Sin
  • DmC: Devil May Cry
  • Dota 2
  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • Driver: San Francisco
  • Ducktales: Remastered
  • Dust: An Elysian Tale
  • Eets Munchies
  • The Elder Scrolls: Arena
  • The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Endless Space
  • Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • F.E.A.R.
  • F.E.A.R. 2
  • F.E.A.R. 3
  • Fallout
  • Fallout 2
  • Fallout 3
  • Fallout Tactics
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Far Cry 3
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Final Fantasy VIII
  • Frozen Synapse
  • FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Galactic Civilizations II
  • Game Dev Tycoon
  • Gone Home
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Grand Theft Auto 2
  • Grand Theft Auto III
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
  • Gratuitous Space Battles
  • Gunpoint
  • Half-Life
  • Half-Life: Blue Shift
  • Half-Life: Opposing Force
  • Half-Life 2
  • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One
  • Hammerfight
  • Hammerwatch
  • Hearthstone
  • Hitman: Codename 47
  • Hitman 2: Silent Assassain
  • Hitman: Blood Money
  • Hitman: Absolution
  • Hitman: Sniper Challenge
  • The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
  • Jamestown
  • Just Cause
  • Just Cause 2
  • Kentuvky Route Zero
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • Kinetic Void
  • The King of Fighters XIII
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
  • L.A. Noire
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Legend of Grimrock
  • Little Inferno
  • Loadout
  • Lone Survivor
  • The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
  • Machinarium
  • Mafia II
  • Magicka
  • Mark of the Ninja
  • Max Payne
  • Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
  • Max Payne 3
  • Medal of Honor (2012)
  • Metal Gear Rising
  • Metro 2033
  • Metro: Last Light
  • Miasmata
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Monaco
  • Mortal Kombat Kollection
  • Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2013)
  • NightSky
  • No Time to Explain
  • Osmos
  • Outlast
  • Papers, Please
  • Papo y Yo
  • Payday 2
  • Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3
  • Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
  • PixelJunk Eden
  • Poker Night at the Inventory
  • Portal
  • Portal 2
  • Prison Achitect
  • Proteus
  • Psychonauts
  • Puzzle Agent
  • Puzzle Agent 2
  • Rayman Origins
  • Red Faction: Armageddon
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla
  • Resident Evil 5
  • Resident Evil 6
  • Risen
  • Risen 2: Dark Waters
  • Risk of Rain
  • The Saboteur
  • Saints Row 2
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Saints Row IV
  • Shadowrun Online
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Shank
  • Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol
  • Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Ckies
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization III
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization V
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
  • Sid Meier’s Railroads
  • SimCity (2013)
  • The Sims 3
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Spec Ops: The Line
  • Spelunky
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist
  • The Stanley Parable
  • Starcraft II
  • Star Wars: Battlefront II
  • Star Wars: Dark Forces
  • Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
  • Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith
  • Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
  • Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
  • Star Wars Republic Commando
  • Star Wars Starfighter
  • Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes
  • Star Wars: Empire at War
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
  • State of Decay
  • Stealth Bastard Deluxe
  • Steel Storm: Burning Retribution
  • Strike Suit Infinity
  • Strike Suit Zero
  • Super Meat Boy
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Surgeon Simulator
  • System Shock 2
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Terraria
  • Thief (2014)
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • To the Moon
  • Tomb Raider (2013)
  • Torchlight
  • Torchlight II
  • Trine
  • Tropico 4
  • Two Worlds II
  • Unity of Command
  • Universe Sandbox
  • Unreal Gold
  • Unreal II: The Awakening
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Unreal Tournament 2004
  • Unreal Tournament 3
  • The Walking Dead: Season 1
  • The Walking Dead: Season 2
  • Wasteland
  • Wasteland 2
  • The Witcher
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
  • The Wolf Among Us
  • World of Warcraft
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  • Ys I
  • Ys II

Game 141: The One Where Matt Williams Got Everyone Pumped Up

Well, that title isn’t exactly fair to Doug Fister and the rest of the Nats, but oh boy did the already excited crowd become electrified after Matt Williams’ visit to the mound resulted in Fister staying in the game to finish the 7th inning.

With two runners on and two outs, Fister was able to get out of the inning and escape the jam.  It was a high tension moment and all that stress may have led to Ray Knight doing his best impression of a Bayer commercial:

Yesterday’s game was the first in the three game series against the Braves. The Nats started the day seven games up in the NL East and the Braves essentially needed to get a sweep to remotely stay alive in the division.  It is no secret that the Nats haven’t exactly had the best of luck against the Braves the past couple seasons, so, justifiably or not, losing game one of the series last night would have made even the most stoic Nats fan a bit nervous.

FP Santangelo said before the game that it was, “the biggest game of the year so far.” (He was probably right).  Uncle Ray wasn’t quite as eloquent about the importance of taking game one.  Notice his terrifying need to clarify, “especially in baseball” while loosely describing the plot of Rambo:

Yikes. Continue reading

The Nats Offense Is Better Than You Think

Well, probably. I don’t know for sure how good you think the Nationals offense is, but I’m speaking more to the general population here. Just bear with me.

Moving on, looking at the Nationals rate stats it paints a seemingly bleak picture. The team average, not including pitchers, is a .260/.329/.403 slash line, a .324 wOBA and a meager 4.28 runs per game. Coming from the steroid fueled offensive funfest that was the early 2000’s that looks absolutely terrible. But spoiler alert, it isn’t the early 2000’s anymore and the game has changed a lot on the offensive side.

Continue reading

The Nats Should Acquire Emilio Bonifacio

Coming into the off-season the most pressing need for the Nationals was to improve the bench. For the most part they’ve done it. The one MLB free agent contract they gave out was to Nate McLouth, a fourth outfielder, and they have signed 25 minor league free agents, many of them utility infielders. Between Danny Espinosa, Jamey Carroll, and Mike Fontenot the Nationals should be able to find a decent enough utility infielder, but the bench still could use some work. The Nationals never got the back-up catcher they wanted and while the depth at utility infielder is impressive all of them come with giant question marks. Jamey Carroll is 40 years old, Danny Espinosa may have too big an ego to accept the role, and Mike Fontenot is not a good enough defender. That means that the Nationals could upgrade that area by getting a known quantity.  Continue reading

Ian Desmond Should Bat Third

As I continue to think about the Nationals line-up I find one glaring weakness. If I thought like an old school manager this weakness wouldn’t exist as I’d bat my best speed guy, Denard Span, first and my best contact guy, Anthony Rendon, second, and while there is value in that I do not think that is the best approach. It sacrifices too much OBP in favor of offensive skills that don’t really matter. It could also be the way to go if Span can be around his career average .350 OBP and Rendon develops like many expect. Ultimately the components that make-up a line-up are far more important than the order they are placed in, but why teams shy away from having their best hitters in the spots that will get the most at bats is beyond me. In my dream scenario the first and second spots in the batting order belong to Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.

This is where the weakness comes into play. In my imaginings I’ve always placed Ryan Zimmerman third because Ryan Zimmerman has always batted third and should always bat third. This is the way things have always been and the way they should continue to be, but that isn’t exactly the case. Ryan Zimmerman spent a number of games last season batting second or fourth and for his career is virtually the same batter no matter where he hits in the order. That is as it should be. Announcers and TV analyst talk about leading-off or hitting third being different but a player is placed in those positions because of an already displayed skill set and not to bat differently. This is why in my preferred batting order Ian Desmond should bat third. Continue reading

Jayson Werth, Shin-Soo Choo, and Line-up Construction

The Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers on a $130 million contract is old news and many people have pointed out that if Jayson Werth were a free agent this off-season the four years and $83 million remaining on his contract would be a fair deal. What hasn’t been pointed out is one of the main criticisms of the Nats signing Jayson Werth was that when they did it they planned on batting him second. Werth as a National has batted all over the place but he has never been more effective than when he was leading off near the end of 2012. It should come as no surprise that with Werth and Harper batting one, two the Nationals saw the best offensive production of their existence. 

It wasn’t that long ago where the thinking of the experts on television was that $126 million was too much for a top of the order bat, but that thinking has changed and it isn’t because Choo is a markedly different player than Jayson Werth. Choo just signed a seven year $130 million deal to lead off for the Rangers. He is heading into his age 31 season whereas Werth was heading into his age 32 season, but that is only a difference of one season. Werth was signed to such a large deal based mostly on his .282/.380/.506 slash line he put up with the Phillies, but even Werth’s career slash line before the contract of .272/.367/.481 is good and comparable to Choo’s career line of .288/.389/.465. Werth has slightly more power, Choo gets on base a little better, but the numbers are close enough that it is easy to call them two players with similar skill sets.

From December of 2010 to December of 2013 the thinking around baseball has changed a little bit. The debate of where your best hitter should hit is no longer as much of a debate and the importance of the top two spots in the order has been recognized. In 2013 the average number one spot batted 750 times for a NL team and the number two spot 734 times. These are the two spots in a line-up that are going to bat the most and should go to the two best hitters on the team. For the Nationals that is Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.

The main criticism of batting a hitter like Werth who has averaged 24 homers per 162 games is that those homers are going to be wasted in the lead-off spot, but in 2013 2,811 of 4,661 homeruns were solo shots. That is 60.3% of all major league homeruns are solo shots. There is no difference in a solo shot that leads off the game than a solo shot in the third inning with two outs and nobody on. The gain in on base percentage at the top of the order is much more important than the risk that there won’t be runners on base when a homerun is hit. If there aren’t players that can get on base in the one or two spots then the homeruns that would be wasted at the top of the order will still be solo shots.

The good news on this is that Shin-Soo Choo’s 162 game average homerun count is 20, or four less than Jayson Werth. If the Rangers aren’t worried about wasting those homers at the top of the order then the Nationals shouldn’t be either. Denard Span is an excellent defensive centerfielder, but he isn’t an elite base stealer and his 162 game average of 24 stolen bases isn’t that much higher than Jayson Werth’s of 16. If Werth is around his career OBP of .367 then not only will the Nats number one hitter get on base more their number two and three hitters will get more opportunities to hit with men on base and more total opportunities to hit.

One of the Nationals biggest issues in 2013 was that they didn’t have enough base runners. By simply batting Werth lead-off the Nationals would add base runners and give their best hitter more opportunities to hit. The perception not that long ago was that a lead-off hitter wasn’t the guy to get a $126 million contract. That that amount of money should be paid to a run producer and not a table setter, but the thinking around baseball has changed and the importance of batting a good hitter the most times during the season has been recognized. The criticism that a player with a $126 million contract shouldn’t lead-off is passé especially seeing as a player just signed a $130 million contract to do exactly that.      

The Washington Nationals All Time Line-up

It seems like yesterday that Livan Hernandez, Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, Chad Cordero, and the rest of the 2005 Nationals were playing baseball in DC for the first time in my life. 2005 will always be a special season for me, and it is about to enter our collective conscience even more. 2014 is the tenth season that the Washington Nationals have been in town. That is cause enough for me to look back and name the Nationals best line-up.

The rules for this are simple. One player at each position, including starting pitcher, and then one relief pitcher. As far as who those players will be I am going to use a combination of stats, sentimentality, and personal judgment. There are some positions with a clear cut statistical leader, but there are others where that person just isn’t someone we’d want as a part of an all time line-up. That is enough for the introduction. It is time to get to the list which I am putting in the order I would bat the players. Not their fWAR ranking or personal measure of greatness.

Right Field: Jayson Werth

This one was fairly easy. By fWAR the entire outfield should be Bryce Harper as he has played all three positions and is counted as such, but as I would like this list to have some amount of realism Bryce Harper cannot be cloned and placed in all three outfield spots. Werth is second in fWAR with 7.6. The wOBA leader with over 100 games is Michael Morse at .369, but Werth isn’t too far off of that at .358 and if anyone has seen the two play defense or run the bases there should be a clear understanding of why Werth is in this position and Morse isn’t. Jayson Werth also happens to be the Washington Nationals biggest free agent signings and had the best offensive season of any Nationals player in the history of the franchise in DC in 2013 when he put up a .403 wOBA. I give him a slight edge over Nick Johnson’s 2006 wOBA of .404 due to the offensive impact of Werth’s base running. 

First Base: Nick Johnson

When it comes to first baseman for the Washington Nationals they have never replaced Nick Johnson. His 11.2 fWAR is only 0.2 points lower than the combined fWARs of Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche, and Michael Morse. Nick Johnson was an offensive force when he was with the Nationals, but not in the way most people think of a first baseman as an offensive force. Nick Johnson was Joey Votto before there was a Joey Votto. His slash line with the Nationals was an impressive .286/.416/.471. Not the level of power associated with the typical first baseman, but Nick Johnson got on base. Not only was he an on base machine he could play solid defense at first base and is the best defensive first baseman the Nationals have ever had. He also happens to be one of the originals and it can be argued that his heel injury he suffered when scoring a run against the Blue Jays is what lead to the 2005 Nationals late season collapse. He was the offense for that team and without him getting on base there weren’t many other ways for that team to score.    

Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman

How much really needs to be written about this choice? Zimmerman isn’t just the fWAR leader for third base, his 34.5 career fWAR is the franchise leader well ahead of second place Ian Desmond at 12.5. When it comes to players that people think of when they thing of the Washington Nationals franchise Ryan Zimmerman should be one of the first two that comes to mind. He was the team’s first draft pick, he hardly played in the minors and then almost won the Rookie of the Year in 2006, and he has a penchant for hitting walk-off homeruns and sending Washington Nationals fans home happy. He even christened Nationals Park with one in 2008 when he took Peter Moylan deep in the ninth inning of the opening game of the 2008 season. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper may be who baseball fans outside the beltway think of when they think of the Nationals but for most Nationals fans Ryan Zimmerman is and will always be the face of the franchise. 

Center Field: Bryce Harper 

As I stated earlier Bryce Harper is the fWAR leader for all three outfield positions and as he can only play one and I actually want this to be the best line-up possible he is playing center field. He did an excellent job at the position in his rookie season and the baseball bias of having a power hitter at a corner position is as much a reason he was moved off of it as any. Harper is also one of two Nationals that is a product of back to back 100 loss seasons and while those seasons aren’t good memories they did help to shape the Nationals into what they are today. Bryce Harper is not only the fWAR leader in center he is also the wOBA leader among players with over 100 games at .361. The only player ahead of him is Alex Escobar who is one of the sadder stories from the early years of the Nationals. He was a five tool player like Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge but he didn’t waste his talent. Injuries prevented him from ever displaying it.

Short Stop: Ian Desmond

As mentioned before Ian Desmond isn’t just the fWAR leader for short stops he also is number two for the franchise in DC behind only Ryan Zimmerman, and number two behind him at short stop is Cristian Guzman at 4.4. Ian Desmond’s road to stardom wasn’t an easy one, and it looked like he may never get there. Desmond was touted in 2005 by then GM Jim Bowden as the second coming of Derek Jeter, and was the team’s top position player prospect. Desmond even made a couple nice defensive plays in Spring Training of 2005 and with Guzman struggling some fans were calling for Desmond to be promoted immediately. Desmond wouldn’t make his major league debut until September of 2009, and what a debut it was. In his short time in the majors that season he hit .280/.318/.561. It was the best September call-up Nationals fans had seen since Ryan Zimmerman in 2005. Desmond would then go on to have two miserable seasons with the bat putting up a .306 wOBA in 2010 and a .289 wOBA in 2011. But when Jim Riggleman left in the middle of 2011 Ian Desmond’s career turned around. Davey Johnson expunged the notion that opposite field hitting is the only hitting and Ian Desmond started to pull the ball, and his power returned. For the last two seasons there hasn’t been a short stop with a higher SLG than Desmond’s .480, and his transformation happened just in time as he is two years away from free agency and due a big raise and extension from the Nationals. 

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano

When first putting this list together I had Josh Willingham in this spot, but it was then pointed out to me that Alfonso Soriano existed. They both have identical 5.0 fWARs as Washington Nationals, but Soriano did it in one season whereas Willingham did it in two. Soriano was also much more of an offensive force batting .277/.351/.560 while hitting 46 homeruns and stealing 41 bases. It is one of only four 40-40 seasons in baseball history, and the only one by a player not linked to PEDs. The other three are Jose Conseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. Watching the 40-40 season unfold live was something to remember and it is one of the finest offensive seasons in Nationals history. It was more glitzy than Werth’s 2013, but while Soriano hit for more power than Werth, Werth bettered him in on base skills and the 41 stolen bases actually counted as a negative because Soriano was thrown out attempting to steal 17 times in 58 attempts giving him a success rate of 70.7%. Still Soriano was a fun player to watch and one of the best the Nationals have ever had. 

Catcher: Brian Schneider

This is where we go against the statistics. By fWAR and by wOBA this spot should go to Wilson Ramos, but Ramos simply hasn’t been healthy enough to earn it. In my opinion this wouldn’t be all that great of a best of list if it included a player that has never managed to stay on the field. Hopefully 2014 can be different for Wilson Ramos and he will be one of those cornerstone players like Zimmerman and Desmond are to the Nationals franchise, but he isn’t that right now and sentimentality gets to win out on this one. Schneider was one of the original 2005 Nationals and in many ways represents them well. He couldn’t hit, and in his time with the Nationals managed a below average batting line of .253/.325/.356, but like the 2005 Nationals he wasn’t known for his offense. Schneider was an excellent defensive catcher. He handled a pitching staff and threw out 33.8% of runners attempting to steal. The advanced catching stats like him too giving him a 33.4 rating in his time with the Nationals. As catcher is primarily a defensive position Schneider edges out Ramos because of that as well.

Second Base: Anthony Rendon

When health and defense are what wins someone a nod in the all-time line-up you know a position is thin, but when it is due to potential then depth is nearly non-existent. The fWAR leader for second base for the Washington Nationals is Danny Espinosa at 6.5, the wOBA leader is Ronnie Belliard at .337, the sentimentality nod should by all rights go to Jose Vidro but he was injured for most of 2005 and simply wasn’t very good when he did play in Washington, and fourth on the list by fWAR is Anthony Rendon. There are reasons to not include those listed above him. Danny Espinosa is still a member of the team and won’t be a part of the actual line-up. How can he be part of an all-time line-up given that reality? Ronnie Belliard was the best offensive second baseman the Nationals have ever had, but he is also Ronnie Belliard and his time with the Nationals corresponds with their worst seasons. Belliard arrived in 2007 and was traded away in 2009. It is best to not keep reminders of that time period around. Jose Vidro was one of the best second basemen in baseball when the Nationals moved to Washington, but then he simply lost it. His defense eroded and his line drive doubles power vanished and he became an empty singles hitter. Rendon’s career slash line of .265/.329/.396 doesn’t compare well to Vidro or Belliard, and Danny Espinosa has them all beat when it comes to defense, but Rendon is the future, and sometimes when the past isn’t very good all that is left to do is embrace the future and hope for the best.

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg

This is an easy one. Jordan Zimmermann is the fWAR leader at 11.7 compared to Strasburg at 10.8 but Zimmermann has had 113 games to amass his fWAR whereas Strasburg has had 75. By FIP Strasburg is the best at 2.79, by ERA he is the best at 2.96, he strikes out the most batters, and he has the best overall stuff. If you were choosing one Nationals starter to pitch a make or break game the choice is Stephen Strasburg. He is the best they’ve ever had. The sentimental pick here would have been Livan Hernandez. To me he is still Mr. National, but when comparing his stats to Strasburg it isn’t even close. Stephen Strasburg is an Ace and at his best Livan Hernandez when he was on the Nationals was a number two or three, and for most of his time in Washington he wasn’t even that. Livan Hernandez was just as likely to take the mound and throw batting practice as he was a complete game shutout, but when he was in the midst of twirling the latter there wasn’t a finer pitcher to watch. Still Strasburg is the choice. He, like Harper, is also a positive product of the two 100 loss seasons and is the head of one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball, and when he is at the top of his game it isn’t simply a fun game to watch it is a possible historic occasion.

Relief Pitcher: Tyler Clippard

From 2009 through 2013 there have been 20 relief pitchers to have thrown at least 300 innings. Of those Tyler Clippard is second in ERA and he is one of only two that have done it to still be members of the team they did it for. Tyler Clippard isn’t just the best relief pitcher the Washington Nationals have had he is one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball. It is rare to find a pitcher with the consistency and durability that Clippard has shown year after year. Think of all the pitchers on the Nationals that have come and gone since Clippard has been a Washington National. He debuted as a starter with the team in 2008. From that team only he and Ryan Zimmerman remain. He became a relief pitcher in 2009 and in his time as a Washington National 57 other pitchers have made appearances out of the bullpen. Clippard is the one constant. It is rare to see a relief pitcher as part of the backbone of a team, but that is what Clippard has been and only Jon Rauch and his 3.3 fWAR as a Nat even comes close to Clippard’s 4.5. Tyler Clippard has only briefly been a closer and will never come close to Chad Cordero’s 113 saves or even Drew Storen’s 55, but it is an easy argument to make that he has been more important than either of them when it comes to the Washington Nationals bullpen.

There you have it. There is my list of the Nats all time line-up as we head into the tenth season of baseball in DC. I am sure there are exceptions to be made and there are people angry that I left off Ryan Church, Jamey Carroll, Michael Morse, or Steve Lombardozzi. This is my list and you’re allowed to disagree with it. I made the best statistical arguments for the players as I could and included a couple others due to sentimentality and lack of historical depth. It has only been nine seasons so far and the Nationals have only recently started to put winning teams on the field, but 1-6 this is as good a line-up as any with some pretty good pitching. I at least hope you had as much fun reading it as I did researching and writing it. The Washington Nationals have provided some good memories through their first nine seasons and here’s to hoping the tenth is something truly magical.

As Washington DC Sports Fans turn to Baseball Remember OBP equals Time of Possession

When baseball fans huddle together and complain about the masses one of the biggest complaints about Washington DC’s sports fan base is that there are too many football fans. That they view baseball through the football colored glasses of a short season and reactionary moves. A player has a bad week or two to start the season and it is time to get rid of them, or a pitcher has a bad inning and it is time for the manager to come get them. The type of responses to baseball that a baseball fan wouldn’t have. The lack of understanding that it is a long season riddled with small sample sizes and that players that are slumping at one moment can suddenly not only regress to the mean but past it and become the hottest player on the team.

The Washington DC fan base is reactionary, but explaining baseball to a football fan shouldn’t be that difficult. In some cases baseball may even be behind football when it comes to understanding some of the complexities of the game and what leads to winning. Nearly every football analyst on the planet talks about clock management and time of possession as being keys to the game. Baseball is no different. There is no clock in baseball but the team that ends up with the most base runners is most likely to win. Time of possession in football and OBP in baseball are close enough that one can be used to explain the other.

Think about all the casual baseball fans that are starting to think Joey Votto is a bad baseball player because he walks too much. That he is bad at his sport because he doesn’t give up possession. That he avoids making outs. Could you ever imagine a football fan, casual or otherwise, saying that a running back is bad because they don’t fumble enough? That is completely ridiculous but so is the idea that the middle of the order batters are RBI men and their job is to drive in runs and if that means making outs then that is what they should do. And while it sounds great to put a run on the board the thing left unsaid in the sac fly vs. walk debate is that the pitch a batter is walking on is out of the strike zone and therefore not a pitch a batter wants to swing at. Sac flies are happy accidents. They happen on either line drives or fly balls deep enough in the outfield that the outfielder can’t throw out the base runner. In both of those cases the pitch needs to be squared up by the batter and that is much harder to do on a pitch out of the strike zone or the type of pitch a batter would take a walk on.

Now imagine yourself having to explain this to a football fan. It would be very easy. Trying to hit a sac fly on a pitch out of the strike zone would be like a football team trying for a 50 yard field goal on third down. It simply doesn’t make sense. Taking the walk doesn’t lead to immediate points, but neither would running a play and trying for a first down on third down as every single football team in the world would do, and swinging at a bad ball has as much if not less of a chance of leading to scoring as the attempt of a 50 yard field goal. Yet there are analyst in baseball, employed by major networks, that insist a sac fly is greater than a walk. I cannot even imagine Jon Gruden saying that going for a 50 yard field goal on third down is a good idea.

Even with a good kicker that can make a majority of his 50 yard field goal attempts the idea of attempting one on third down is laughable. It is putting points on the board but it is giving up on a potential touchdown and last time I checked seven is still greater than three. Think about the walk in this way. It is putting an additional runner on base and therefore an additional run. If the first batter does get the sac fly and the next man up hits a double then there would still be only one run on the board whereas if the first batter walks and then a double is hit there is the potential that two runs would be scored or at the very least the situation is runners second and third with one out instead of a runner on second with two outs. The first situation is much better, still has a run across the plate, and has the potential to lead to an even bigger inning, and that is really the thing. When settling for a field goal a team is giving up the chance at seven points to settle for three and the same goes in baseball. A sac fly over a walk is settling for one run instead of trying for a big inning and again the sac fly is no guaranteed thing. The batter isn’t swinging at the pitch he takes a walk on because it isn’t a pitch he can drive anywhere and likely won’t lead to a sac fly in the first place.

Washington DC is full of football fans and with that football team in continued disarray and a baseball team that is supposed to be pretty good more and more of the Washington sports fans are going to flock to baseball. It has already started to happen and has lead to some frustration as the football fan mentality has been blamed for the increased anxiety over players in slumps and love for players that really aren’t that good (Steve Lombardozzi). Remember that there are concepts in both sports that are similar enough that one can be used to explain the other. Time of possession and OBP is what I choose to look at, but there are others and understanding the two sports in the same manner isn’t as hard as one might think. In both sports the team that wins the majority of the time is going to be the team that spends more time on offense and less time on defense. In football that is achieved by converting first downs and in baseball by getting on base. To put it another way a football team wants to avoid getting to fourth down as long as possible and a baseball team wants to avoid the third out as long as possible.

More and more Washington football fans are going to turn to the Nationals for a sports fix in 2014, but instead of writing them off as neanderthal fans of a lesser sport use their favorite sport to illustrate the beauty of baseball.          

The Nats Final Bench Spot

If the season were to start this minute the Nats bench would be Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa, Chris Snyder, and someone else. The Nats could still sign John Buck to be the back-up catcher or a utility infielder to either compete with Danny Espinosa in spring or to supplant him, but that open spot is currently filled by nobody with no obvious answer as to who it should be. There are many that think it should be Tyler Moore to platoon with LaRoche but only 24% of Adam LaRoche’s career plate appearances have been against left handed pitchers and his career .729 OPS against them is better than Tyler Moore’s .659. Even though LaRoche is significantly worse against left handed pitchers than he is against right handers but his numbers against left handed pitchers is still better than Tyler Moore’s. 

The idea of finding a platoon partner for LaRoche isn’t a bad one but it should be someone that can handle limited at bats and is a good hitter against left handed pitchers. In other words it shouldn’t be Tyler Moore. Earlier in the off-season the Nats were linked to career bench bat, and Garfield High graduate Jeff Baker. As of now he remains unsigned. Unlike Tyler Moore he has shown an ability to hit in limited at bats and has a career .875 OPS against left handed pitching. He can also back up third base, left field, and right field. Jeff Baker would give the Nats more versatility and a better bat than Tyler Moore as well as giving them the platoon partner they may want for Adam LaRoche. 

There are other options as well. Matt Williams has talked about the need for speed on the bases. He wants the Nats to run more and be more aggressive, but that doesn’t mean he wants them getting thrown out. He isn’t going to send Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, or Wilson Ramos to steal a base, but he could get a player that he could pinch run for them in late game situations. The Nationals happen to have that player in their system. Eury Perez over seven minor league seasons has stolen 242 bases with a 77.6% success rate. Perez hasn’t shown much ability with the bat in limited major league time, but he has shown great defensive ability and speed. He has stolen four bases in the majors without being caught. That is an extremely limited sample size and as a sixth outfielder Perez as the final bench player doesn’t make a lot of sense unless he is no longer considered anything but a pinch runner. 

The stolen base is no longer a big part of baseball. It is seen as more of a liability than a weapon. The cost for an unsuccessful stolen base is far more negative than the positives of a successful one, but in those late game situations when one run can tie or win a game then the advantages of taking an extra base becomes even more important. Perez could provide the Nats with a player whose job could be to pinch run in the late innings to go first to third on a single, first to home on a double, and steal a base if needed. The problem with this move is the Nats already have two outfielders on the bench in McLouth and Hairston and don’t have anyone that can back up first base. 

Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa are the key to making this move work. Matt Williams has mentioned that he wants Zimmerman to learn to play some first base so he can fill in for LaRoche. This wouldn’t give the Nationals a traditional back-up but it would give them someone that could back-up LaRoche and Zimmerman has a career .850 OPS against left handed pitching. If Zimmerman can play first base then he can provide the platoon partner many want for LaRoche while leaving a bench spot open for a pinch runner. The other key to this move is Danny Espinosa. Espinosa has never played third in his career but he has both the range and arm to do so. The big question about Espinosa is his hitting. While this isn’t that important for a traditional utility infielder it is a big part of a platoon for LaRoche. Having Zimmerman move across the diamond does nothing if his replacement at third can’t hit better than LaRoche’s career .725 OPS against left handed pitching. If Espinosa is healthy he can destroy left handed pitching. In 2012 Espinosa had a .775 OPS against left handed pitching and in 2011, .857. If Espinosa’s rotator cuff and wrist truly are healed then the Nats would be replacing a .725 OPS in the line-up with a .787 OPS and would have a late inning pinch runner when needed. 

There isn’t a single right answer to who should start the season as the 25th man on the roster. It could be Eury Perez, Jeff Baker, Omar Quintanilla, or someone not even thought of. A bench is a movable thing and no matter who starts as the 25th man on Opening Day there is a near guarantee they won’t finish the season in that position. My preference would be to see the Nats throw the baseball world a curve and go with a pinch runner that is something that is highly unlikely because it simply isn’t a position baseball teams use anymore, but because they don’t use it anymore it could create late inning problems for other teams and Matt Williams sounds like a manager that would enjoy that. As of now it is unknown who that final bench spot will go to, and discussing it now only highlights the need for Opening Day to hurry up and get here.   

The Ecstasy of Pitching

The Nationals currently have ten pitchers that could pitch in the big leagues and even more if you figure someone like AJ Cole or Paul Demny would be given shots out of Spring Training, that is if these were the 2008 or 2009 Nationals. In fact the five pitchers behind the projected starting five (Jordan, Roark, Ohlendorf, Karns, Young) would be a better Opening Day rotation than that calendar date saw in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 for the Nationals. The pitching rich Nationals is much more of a recent development, but even with four pitchers that project to put up top of the rotation level numbers and a bevy of guys that can fill the back of the rotation behind them the Nationals don’t have enough pitching. 

The only reason being that there is never enough pitching, and there is no such thing as having too much talent. There are five rotation spots and seven bullpen spots on the majority of major league teams. There are thirteen pitchers that are going to start the season on the Opening Day roster, and last season in MLB the average team needed 23 pitchers to make it through the season. That brings us finally to the point that like the lust for gold, the lust for pitching can never be satiated. Sure the Washington Nationals traded for Doug Fister earlier in the off-season, but that only gives them four very good pitchers and leaves them with a couple of open spots in the bullpen. There is one additional move, one big fish still on the market, which the Nationals could make to solidify their roster even more.

Masahiro Tanaka. The recently posted Japanese star is garnering a lot of attention from a lot of different teams, but when asked about it Mike Rizzo said the Nationals probably wouldn’t get involved. That they need to take care of their own first, if at all possible. When I read the original quote, that I can’t seem to find by using Google, my thought was, “That’s so Rizzo.” He made a statement that when examined for meaning ends up meaning nothing. You can read it a couple ways. The Nationals probably won’t get involved unless the price for Tanaka isn’t upwards of the $120 million combined for player and posting fee it is expected to be, or that they probably won’t get involved unless things don’t go as planned with Desmond and Zimmermann, mainly Zimmermann.

The latter reasoning of the statement would seem to indicate the Nationals may want to use the possibility of jumping in on Tanaka as leverage in negotiations with Jordan Zimmermann. That if he doesn’t agree to their terms they won’t wait to acquire his replacement. Now whether this would put any pressure on Jordan Zimmermann or not all depends on how much Jordan Zimmermann wants to stay in DC and all indications are that he doesn’t care that much. That he is looking at making $17-20 million on the open market and would like that to be his salary for how many ever free agent years the Washington Nationals buy out. This can still lead to a reasonable contract. Figure a doubling of the $5.3 million he made last season to $11 million in the first year of the extension buying out one arb year and then raise that to around $15 for his final arb year and then $18 million for three free agent years with two $25 million options tacked on the end. That is a five year $80 million contract that he and his agent can announce as a seven year $130 million contract. Fair and reasonable.

But if Jordan Zimmermann won’t accept that deal then the Nationals can turn their attention towards Tanaka and offer him the same seven years and $130 million with $20 million of it being the posting fee and fill an impending need without spending any more money than they were willing to in the first place. The projected $10 and $15 million Jordan Zimmermann would make in his final two years of arbitration is less than the going rate for a pitcher of his talent, but is the going rate for a back of a rotation starter. So even if the Nationals kept all five pitchers they wouldn’t be paying any more than they would have to anyway. The largest positive to adding Tanaka is that it gives the Nationals two seasons of the best five man rotation in baseball, and when Fister and Zimmermann leave after the 2015 season it is more likely that they can fill two spots internally than three.

There are positives and negatives to signing Tanaka. He projects to be a pitcher very similar to Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals already have and know Jordan Zimmermann. It would take right around the same amount of money to sign them and having one may cause the other to be lost. The negatives to signing Tanaka boil down to it may not work out, but that can be said of any pitching move. Not that long ago the Mets traded for one of the best pitchers on the planet in Johan Santana. He blew out his shoulder and never pitched to his Cy Young level abilities in New York, and Santana was a proven commodity. Tanaka being untested in MLB doesn’t diminish his talent. This could be the only way a team can get a top of the rotation talent this season or next without having to give up a draft pick or prospects. All Tanaka costs is money. A giant boatload of money, but no more than any other top of the rotation talent will cost.

As Mike Rizzo said the Nationals probably won’t get involved, but the possibility of being the GM that assembled the greatest five man rotation in baseball history has to be alluring. It is the baseball executive equivalent of the shimmering aspect of gold. If Mike Rizzo wakes one morning with the fever you never know what the Nationals may do. They do have Zimmermann and Desmond to sign, but having Tanaka replaces one of those and in reality doesn’t cost any more. Mike Rizzo’s quote didn’t shut the door on the possibility of the Nationals going after Tanaka only its probability, and until he signs somewhere else there are a few of us in Natstown that will dream on the gold in them there hills.              

The Case Against Extending Jordan Zimmermann

With how much love role players like Michael Morse and Steve Lombardozzi have garnered from Nats fans as they’ve left town it will be amazing to see what happens when the Washington Nationals lose a legitimate star player. With Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann both two years away from free agency there is a high likelihood that that day is soon approaching. The Nationals have made several overtures to Jordan Zimmermann but no deal has been reached or even come close. Zimmermann wants fair market value which is understandable but what is fair market value for a pitcher like him?

Zack Greinke with a career 3.65 ERA and one Cy Young under his belt set the record for free agent pitchers with the $147 million contract he signed last off-season heading into his age 29 season. Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t have a Cy Young and will be heading into his age 30 season when he hits free agency but with 4.00 ERA 200 inning starters getting between $10-15 million this off-season one can only imagine what Jordan Zimmermann would get as a free agent if he can pitch 400 innings over the next two seasons and maintains his career 3.40 ERA. When looking at this from Jordan Zimmermann’s perspective and seeing the amount of money handed out to sub-par pitchers this off-season, free agency is awfully tempting.

As of right now Jordan Zimmermann can only negotiate with one team and is likely to max out somewhere around Matt Cain’s $127 million contract and there is an argument to be made that that is too much money for Jordan Zimmermann, but as a free agent he will make much more than that and that will be for his age 30 season on. As of right now the Nationals would be buying out his last two arbitration years and hoping to lock him up no further than his age 35 season. It doesn’t sound like that is what Jordan Zimmermann wants and that is perfectly understandable. There is more money on the free agent market than there is in signing an extension, and Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t want to sign a team friendly deal. If he is to sign an extension with the Nationals it will be for the money he expects to get as a free agent, and there are very few pitchers worth that amount of money and that level of commitment. 

The first and most obvious reason is pitchers get hurt. Two years ago Roy Halladay was poised to pitch for five to ten more seasons, retire, and skate into the Hall of Fame. Injuries piled up, 2013 was a disaster, and Roy Halladay is now retired, much closer to ‘borderline’ than ‘no-brainer’ Hall of Famer. The list of promising and great careers that ended early in a player’s 30’s is too long to list, but look at what happened with guys like Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, and Matt Garza. None of them are retired but none of them are as good as they once were and injuries have cost them all. Pitching is one of the most unpredictable things in sports and committing money and years to it is one of the riskiest endeavors in sports.

The other reason that extending Jordan Zimmermann at this time may not be in the Nationals interest is that they have a lot of options when it comes to replacing him. Lucas Giolito is already a top 100 prospect in baseball, could finish 2014 in the top 25 or top 10, and is projected to be in the majors as soon as 2015 and as late as 2016. Jordan Zimmermann is a free agent after the 2015 season and if the Nats let him play out his contract, see what they have in Giolito, and let Jordan Zimmermann walk they will get an additional first round draft pick when Zimmermann turns down the qualifying offer.

After the internal options of Lucas Giolito and to a lesser extent AJ Cole the 2015 free agent pitching class is loaded. It is assumed that Kershaw won’t make it anywhere close to free agency, and even if he doesn’t that leaves Max Scherzer, James Shields, Justin Masterson, Homer Bailey, and Jon Lester as free agent starters. The Nats could sign one of those, trade Zimmermann for prospects to upgrade the farm system all while doing no damage to the rotation.

When it comes to winning a World Series the best way to do it is to have sustained success season after season, and locking up $100 million into one of five rotations spot isn’t a good way to do things unless that pitcher is one of the tops in all of baseball. Jordan Zimmermann is a good pitcher but he isn’t in the class of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, or Adam Wainwright. If the Nationals are going to spend big money on a rotation spot the person to spend it on will be Stephen Strasburg if and when he develops into what he is projected to be. Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t have dominating strikeout ability and when his stuff starts to diminish when he reaches his 30’s it is doubtful that he will age well.

Beyond how Jordan Zimmermann will age the Nationals have options. They have Lucas Giolito and AJ Cole in the system and the 2015 free agent pitching class is loaded. The Nationals can either trade Zimmermann next off-season or ride out his last two seasons, take the draft pick, and give the rotation spot to Giolito or Cole. The Nationals have more options than simply signing Jordan Zimmermann and keeping the band together. The Philadelphia Phillies were once the kings of the NL East, but they didn’t know when it was time to let players go and felt they had to extend everyone. They ended up with too much money locked into too few players and it all fell apart. There isn’t a need to keep everyone, and Jordan Zimmermann could serve the team better as a trade chip while the $100-150 million he wants is better invested.

Jordan Zimmermann is a great pitcher and has done, and will continue to do, good things for the Nationals. He is a very important part of the 2014 roster, but he may not be a part of the 2015 or 2016 roster. The Nationals have other options. They can lose him and continue to win. They can even trade him and get better. I would argue that the prospects the Nationals would receive in a Jordan Zimmermann trade plus Max Scherzer or James Shields in the rotation would be an upgrade to both the farm system and the rotation. If Jordan Zimmermann will sign an extension that is great, but with him seeking his free agent value it is starting to look like the Nationals best option is to prepare to move on.      

Strasburg is an Ace

This was the blog post I was hoping to not write this off-season and honestly I felt that the ‘Strasburg is not an Ace’ talk would come from the other side of the spectrum. That the talk of Strasburg not being an Ace would be due to his perceived mental issues and 8-9 record. Instead it came from courtswift over on Nats 101. I will say that I do have some issues with the methodology before getting into my opinion on why Strasburg is an Ace, but I can sum it up quite simply by saying that by using simply fWAR to define what an Ace is eliminates Tom Glavine. Tom Glavine average 3.215 WAR over a 20 year career. Glavine should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame and I have a hard time saying a Hall of Fame pitcher is anything but an Ace.

Defining an Ace is a funny thing. It is kind of like defining peace. It is term that is going to mean something different to everyone. I should say here that courtswift tends to be a small Ace person whereas I am a large Ace person. In my opinion there are 30 Aces in baseball because there are 30 teams and if the world were fair every team would have their own Ace. As we all know the world isn’t fair and some teams like the Mariners, Phillies, and Tigers end up with more than one Ace whereas others like the Braves and Orioles have none.

By this time you’re probably wondering how I define an Ace and I’ll get into the baseball specifics of it in a minute but first watch this video of Jordan dunking on Dikembe Motumbo.




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This is what I believe an Ace is. Mutombo tells Jordan that he’s never gotten him and what does Jordan do? He goes and gets him. He puts Mutombo on a poster. That is what an Ace starting pitcher does. He is the guy you want on the mound. The guy you believe can shut down the opposing team every time he takes the mound, and this is why when it comes to what an Ace pitcher is I am more inclined to look at rate stats like ERA and FIP. Is this pitcher one of the best in baseball when he is on the mound? 

Over the last two seasons Stephen Strasburg is eighth in baseball in FIP with a 3.03 FIP and a tied for eleventh in baseball with Madison Bumgarner with a 3.08 ERA. This is flat out dominance over two seasons. Over the last two seasons Strasburg is a top ten pitcher when he has been on the mound. The issue here seems to be that Strasburg had Tommy John’s surgery in 2010 and was on a 160 innings limit in 2012 and a 190 innings limit in 2013. Yes, Strasburg spent time on the DL in 2013 but it would have been unwise for the Nationals to have pitched him at any more than a 30 innings increase in his age 24 season. That is one more point in Strasburg’s favor, he is 24. 

Masahiro Tanaka could be posted this season, and if he is he is expected to garner a better than $100 million contract with a $20 million posting fee on top of that. So if baseball values a 25 year old that has never pitched in the majors at $120 million plus imagine what they would value a 24 year old who has a career 3.08 ERA and has proven he can get major league hitters out at an elite level. Think about this for a second. If Strasburg were a free agent today he could easily break the record deal Zack Greinke got last season as a free agent pitcher. Strasburg as a free agent would give teams the chance to pay for potential and projected production instead of paying for past services rendered to someone else as most free agent contracts tend to be. In the case of Tanaka and Strasburg, teams would get the chance to pay for the value they project a starting pitcher will give to them. 

Speaking of value let’s look at where Strasburg’s stuff ranks in baseball using Fangraphs pitch values. Strasburg may be known for his high 90s fastball but that is his third best pitch. When it comes to Strasburg’s real stuff his secondary pitches are where it is at and over the last two seasons his curve ball is ranked as the third best curve in baseball behind AJ Burnett and Adam Wainwright and tied with Clayton Kershaw. His change-up is ranked as the eleventh best change-up in baseball behind David Price and ahead of Jeremy Hellickson. And while the fastball ranks as the 20th best in baseball no one has average velocity higher than Strasburg’s 95.5 MPH over the last two seasons. That right there is three plus pitches. Three pitches that rank in the top 20 for their type in baseball and the one that is ranked the lowest happens to be the hardest fastball in the game. Again I would like to point out that Strasburg is 24, is perceived to have struggled in 2013, and still ended up with a flat 3.00 ERA and 3.21 FIP. 

Strasburg did have some minor issues in 2013. At times his mound presence wasn’t quite there. Early in the season he was too concerned with errors behind him and appeared to forget that he was Stephen Strasburg. He gave too much respect to the batters and didn’t appear to be convinced that he was the danger. As the year went along these issues ironed themselves out. Of the ten unearned runs Strasburg allowed nine of them were allowed before May 17. Starting with the May 16 game where Strasburg motioned to Zimmerman that he had him Strasburg pitched to a 2.96 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 133 2/3 innings averaging over six innings a start and holding opposing batters to a .197/.274/.289 batting line. That is flat dominance. Those are numbers an Ace puts up. 

What an Ace is, is a subjective thing. You may only want to put the label on 10-15 pitchers at a time or you may want to imagine that in a perfect world every team would get their own Ace and there are always 30 of them or you may want to look at the current environment of baseball with a seemingly endless explosion of young pitching talent and say there are even more than 30 Aces. Whatever camp you fall into my summation of what an Ace is, is the pitcher you want starting game one of the World Series for you. The pitcher you think gives your team the best chance to win day in and day out and every time they are on the mound they have a chance to shut down the opposition. Stephen Strasburg has been that guy when he’s been on the mound for the Nationals and there is no reason to believe he cannot continue to be that guy. 

If you still don’t believe it here is a GIF from cbssports.com of Stephen Strasburg making Joey Votto look ridiculous with a change-up.

Frankensteining a Fifth Starter

Look at any rotation in baseball and it is obvious that no team is going to make it through the season using only five starters. Most people chalk this up to the high occurrence of injuries among starting pitchers and call it a day, but underperformance, weather, and trades can be just as much at fault as injury for teams using more than five starters. Get above a certain level of quality and those teams have two or three solid 180-200 inning starters and then a bunch of other names moving in and out of the rotation based on performance. Given the recent history of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, and Gonzalez there is no reason to think that somewhere between 160-200 innings are likely from all four. That leaves the Nationals with one open spot in the rotation that is either going to be occupied by Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf, or Tanner Roark, and there is no reason it can’t be all of them.

The thought is that one of those four will win the job out of Spring Training and pitch until they are either so bad they have to be removed from the rotation or get hurt and then it will be the duty of the next man up to fill that spot, but there is another way. To find it takes only a quick glimpse to the north. The Orioles got 170 innings plus from two starters, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, over 130 from the injured Jason Hammels and Wei-Yin Chin and no more than 90 from anyone else. Most of the pitchers that made up the bottom of the Orioles rotation are what would be called swing men. Pitchers that are somewhere between being a bad starter and a mediocre reliever, but yet the Orioles found a way to somewhat use them effectively. This method worked far better in 2012 than it did in 2013 and the overall weakness of the pitching was exposed when trying to use it for three spots instead of one or two, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea or one that can’t be refined to work for the Nationals fifth starter. 

Along with the opening at fifth starter that are also two openings in the bullpen behind Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, and Blevins. Both Tanner Roark and Ross Detwiler have success in limited bullpen duty and could both fill that need and give the Nationals the ability to rotate starting pitchers based on match-ups. Both the Braves and Phillies have struggled against left handed starting pitching in the past and it would give the Nationals an advantage to start Detwiler in those games, but the Cardinals are a right handed heavy line-up and could fair worse against Roark or Jordan. By doing this the Nationals could be looking at instead of having one fifth starter with a 4.00-4.50 ERA they could have a composite starter with an ERA in the 3.00’s. 

Detwiler has been a solid starter when healthy over the last couple seasons but for his career he is much better against left handed hitters than right handed hitters holding left handed hitters to a .627 OPS against him and right handed hitters .767. Starting Detwiler against a lefty heavy line-up would be a way that the Nationals could take advantage of Detwiler’s splits without having to convert him to a reliever full time. Taylor Jordan has similar splits to Detwiler but reversed as he held right handed hitters to a .657 OPS against and left handed hitters to a .761 OPS. Taylor Jordan was shutdown to end the 2013 season and pitched a combined 140 innings between the minors and majors in 2013 and splitting time between relieving and starting would be a way to limit his innings in 2014. In Detwiler’s case he has pitched over 100 innings once in his major league career and that was in 2012 when he pitched 164 1/3 innings. Perhaps the dramatic increase in innings led to him getting hurt in 2013 or health will be something Detwiler always struggles with due to his across the body throwing motion.

Both Detwiler and Taylor Jordan are both talented enough to be fifth starters, but by piecing them together and having them pitch based on match-ups they can be even better, and when they aren’t scheduled as starters they will be relievers that can give the Nationals multiple innings at a time. Neither Detwiler nor Jordan will ever reach the 200 inning mark in this manner but there is a high likelihood that neither of them would do that otherwise. This way the 130 innings they are each capable of giving will be stretched across the rotation and bullpen and they will be pitching when they have the advantage, and if one were to be far more successful than the other then that one would become the full time fifth starter.

With as strong as the top four are in the Nationals rotation they can afford a little experimentation at the back end and this is nowhere as extreme as the piggyback starters the Rockies tried in 2012. This is a strategy that is being currently implemented in baseball and the idea of a swing man that splits time between the rotation and the bullpen goes back a long ways in the sport of baseball. It is a position that has almost been forgotten as the game has become more specialized and moved on a teams want those one inning, give everything they got, fireballers filling up the bullpen. Matt Williams sounds like a manager looking to take every advantage no matter how small because multiple small advantages will eventually add up to one big advantage. Not having a set fifth starter and playing match-ups at the back-end of the rotation is just one more way to take advantage of player’s strengths. Detwiler against lefty heavy line-ups and Taylor Jordan against righty heavy line-ups with Tanner Roark in long relief to step in in case anything goes wrong.

One way or another there is a high probability that multiple pitchers will make an appearance as the Nationals fifth starter, and at least with this method they can control it a little bit instead of waiting for unbearable under performance or injury. By using Jordan and Detwiler as the fifth starter the Nationals will not only take advantage of match-ups but it also serves as an effective measure to limit their innings and keep them healthy. With a team looking to take every advantage this is just one more that is open to them and could be much more than a small advantage as the season unfolds.

The Final Twenty Roster Spots

Over the last two seasons the average NL team used 45 players during the course of the season and only the Cincinnati Reds used less than 40 at 38 in 2012 and 39 in 2013. Watching the off-season unfold it is obvious that most experts and fans focus on the 25 man roster. No team is going to make it through the season using their Opening Day roster, and those final twenty players can be just as important. Look at what happened with the Cardinals and Michael Wacha down the stretch or how Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan filled in for injuries on the Nationals. It is close to impossible to evaluate those roster spots as many of the players that fill them are either unknown in the system or currently on other teams. We can still try and there are some clues as to who will help the Nationals and why the depth in 2014 is much better than it was in 2013.

It might not appear that different at first blush. Chris Young was resigned and will be back in AAA as pitching depth but from the start in 2014 he is going to be behind Ross Ohlendorf, Taylor Jordan, Nate Karns, Tanner Roark, and by mid-season could be behind AJ Cole, Taylor Hill, Paul Demny, and Blake Schwartz. The same goes for the bullpen. Gone are Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez but if things go wrong to the degree that they did in 2013 then the call-ups won’t be a 22 year old from AA and a cast off of the Houston Astros. Instead they will be top relief prospects in Aaron Barrett, Richie Mirowski, and Rob Wort. Barrett and Mirowski both have the chance to be integral back of the bullpen arms in the future with 2013 K/9 rates over 12.0 in AA and BB/9 rates of 1.7 for Mirowski and 2.7 for Barrett. These are power, strikeout arms that pitch with control, and both have set-up/closer upside written all over them. This is a lot better depth than the cast of characters the Nats trotted out to the bullpen when Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Ryan Mattheus, and Drew Storen struggled in 2013. And don’t forget a few of those listed as starters could pitch out of the bullpen as well as Christian Garcia possibly being healthy. 

The bench could also have more depth. Zach Walters and Jeff Kobernus are perfectly serviceable as utility infielders if Danny Espinosa can’t handle the job. A side note on that: there is no reason to believe Danny Espinosa can’t be a utility infielder. It is primarily a defensive position and guys like John McDonald have carved out 15 year MLB careers with a .601 OPS and a reputation as nothing but a solid glove. While John McDonald will never be talked up as a great MLB player he still did it for 15 years and earned over $12.5 million for his career. The case should be fairly easy for Matt Williams to make to Danny Espinosa as to why being a utility infielder may be the best choice for his career and if he plays well enough he can earn back a starting role somewhere in the majors. As of right now Espinosa has very little trade value and Mike Rizzo is unlikely to want to trade him for peanuts. 

With that tangent aside let’s get back to the bench. Most of the depth here isn’t currently on the roster. If something goes wrong with the starting position players Nate McLouth will keep the outfield from being in as much trouble and the off-season isn’t over yet. It is very likely that the Nationals are going to add an addition veteran like Eric Chavez or Jeff Baker to the bench as well as a back-up catcher. But if something were to happen to Ian Desmond there is no replacement without a trade, but any team that loses a player that has been the best at his position over the last two seasons is going to have trouble replacing that player. The deepest part of the Nats system is in the outfielder. If Span were to go down with a long term injury the Nationals could call up their top position prospect Brian Goodwin and if he isn’t ready then maybe Steven Souza Jr. will be. The Nationals have outfield depth and Souza Jr. is also someone the Nationals could use as an additional right handed bench bat or platoon partner for LaRoche in the latter half of the season. 

The Nats still have work to do when it comes to position player depth but the presence of Danny Espinosa as the current utility infielder shouldn’t stop them from adding someone like Omar Quintanilla or Cody Ransom on an MiLB deal. That will not only give the Nats some Spring Training competition but some AAA depth should something happen. The pitching depth is much stronger than it was in 2013 and as injuries strike other teams in the rotation and bullpen the Nationals could use that pitching depth to fill any position player needs that crop up. The only thing that is certain right now is that the Nationals are going to need around twenty players who aren’t going to start the season on the active roster. Those players could be deep in the Nationals own system, top prospects we’ve all heard of, or deadline acquisitions who are currently on another team’s roster. No matter who they are there is a strong chance that one of those final twenty is going to be the difference between playing in the World Series or not. 

Deja Vu All Over Again

There is a disease in the modern media for instant analysis and it should come as no surprise that as soon as the Winter Meetings ended yesterday teams were being labeled as winners and losers. The Nationals are once again wearing the familiar crown of offseason winners. It is still early and they still need to add a few pieces but those pieces remain on the market and until they aren’t, they can be added. The Nationals were off-season winners last year as well. The Span deal was seen as filling two needs, better outfield defense and leadoff hitter, the move for Dan Haren was considered a good buy low option, and the Soriano move provided bullpen depth and was seen as a move that would put the Nationals over the top. Most of the roster remained the same and that was seen as the real victory. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were supposed to take steps forward in their careers and instead Strasburg took a step back and Harper had a great April, ran into a wall, and posted a .789 OPS afterwards. 2013 was a season where more went wrong than went right and the adjustments needed were never made.

The biggest issues with 2013 weren’t anything listed above. The Haren deal didn’t work out, but it was a one year deal and now Haren is off to LA on another one year deal in his continuing quest to rebuild value. Span improved the outfield greatly but struggled with the bat for most of the season. He should have been moved out of the leadoff spot sooner and for a longer period of time, but that isn’t Span’s call. And Soriano wasn’t great but he wasn’t as terrible as people believe. The off-season moves weren’t the real problem with the Nationals in 2013. The problem was with players already on the roster. No one on the bench hit. Steve Lombardozzi ended up being the best bench bat with a .616 OPS. That is terrible and below the paltry .622 OPS expected from the average NL pinch hitter. The Nats had no bench players who were even average and when injuries were suffered in a concurrent time frame everything unraveled.

Fister, McLouth, and Blevins are all great additions and fill needs that the Nationals have and they are once again enough for the Nationals to be favorites in the NL East. But my reaction to hearing them labeled as “offseason winners” wasn’t one of joy or happiness at being favorites once again it was: “oh shit”. That has to be because of what happened in 2013. The Nationals were favorites, guaranteed a spot in the postseason, and a near lock to play the Tigers or Angels in the World Series. The World Series was the Cardinals and Red Sox and neither the Angels nor the Nationals even made it to the postseason. Being an offseason winner only gets a team so far and the only thing that has me hopeful about the upcoming season is that the thought that the players’ expectations will be as guarded as mine.

It is a funny thing that expectations can do. An 86 win season, ten games over .500, isn’t bad. In baseball it should be considered good. It is tough to win, and for a team that has knew nothing but losing from 2005 through 2011, back to back winning seasons should be celebrated more. They can’t be. Expectations change the target and while back to back winning seasons are good the hope was so much higher. The thought before last season was that the Nationals are going to be one of the most exciting teams to watch. There were articles written saying they had a chance to be one of the best teams of all time, and then they were just another team. Another team with a low scoring offense that became stale and boring to watch at times. The games became redundant. The Nationals struggled to put men on base and when they did get men on base they couldn’t get them across home plate.

Now we’re gearing up for another offseason of high expectations. The Fister trade is already being hailed as one of the best moves of the offseason, Nate McLouth is a gigantic upgrade over any backup outfielder the Nationals had in 2013, and Jerry Blevins is a left handed reliever that can not only increase the Nationals platoon advantage but can get right handed hitters out as well. All three of these moves fill holes in the roster and it is presumed moves for a backup catcher and additional bench bat are yet to come. Once those are made the Nationals roster will be complete and with Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, Nate Karns, Ross Detwiler, Xavier Cedeno, Ryan Mattheus, and Christian Garcia the Nationals should have the pitching depth to cover the final two bullpen spots, one rotation spot, and any issues that occur as the season progresses. The Nationals roster as of right now when compared to the 2013 roster is better and not only is it better 1-25, it is better 26-30 as well.

Get ready. The expectations will be high once again, but learn from 2013 and approach them with guarded optimism and not the outright exuberance we all had on Opening Day a year ago. I remember leaving that game. I felt high and joyous. Harper had hit two homers and Strasburg had looked brilliant in seven innings of work. Certainly most every game was going to be like this, but they weren’t, and great expectations dried up like sand in the desert giving way to dry disappointment. The Nationals for now are winners, winners of the Winter Meetings, a title as meaningless as Grapefruit League MVP.