Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Every new beginning is some other beginning's end . . .

. . . YEAH!

Anyway, I started this thing on Wednesday, January 19. As my first post indicates, I didn't have any grand designs for Nationals Inquirer; in reviewing my content since then, I can only conclude I met such high expectations!

To every thing there is a season, of course, and at the sake of infusing mock-sentimentality, I'm here to note that NI is shutting down about 48 hours after the Nationals' season did. You see, in the recent past I received an offer to join up with the Sports Blogs Nation network. I was very flattered by the offer, mulled it over, and concluded, "Why the heck not?"

And here we are. NI is shutting down, but we're basically looking at the same blog---only it'll be better-looking. As the one who's looked at this blog the most in the past eight or nine months, trust me on that one!

So, here's where you can find me, starting . . . now: FederalBaseball.com. Thanks for reading in the past, thanks for continuing to read, and---most of all---thanks for being you, fans of the Washington Nationals. I like you guys.

Where do we go now, sweet Bodes of mine?


Remember when you played sandlot football as a kid, and one of the scrubs kept on insisting, every time you huddled up, that his play would most definitely work? Come on, guys, this'll work! Two plays later: I'm telling you, give this a try. I'll catch it, I promise!

I reckon Jim Bowden was one of those guys (that's why he's a GM who never played, right?), and he's got a plan. Ah, that's a relief!

And what, pray tell, does the plan entail? Here's what: GET A LOT OF GUYS WE DON'T HAVE TO DO THINGS THE GUYS WE CURRENTLY HAVE DON'T DO SO WELL.

Awesome!

"It's that simple?" you ask. Sure, baby. But if you don't think I'm doing his plan justice, I'll review it:

---> Get power hitters.
---> Get speed guy.
---> Get starting pitchers.
---> Get "power lefty."
---> Get veteran leadership.*

Results to follow.

Yep, that's it. Now, that's a plan, gang! If only the new owner(s)---if he/she/they actually exist(s)---would give Bodes the chance to implement it, he knows it'll work. (And, considering he thought the current edition was underachieving, despite its midseason 100-win pace, this time he's serious; he was just joking back then.)


* I wonder if Carlos Baerga is available . . .

________________

Retrospectives galore!

---> Harper assumes the third rail and blog-rolls the concept (good links in there), while also kind of subtly mocking the concept. He also says the Nats' season could have been so much more (rather than could have been so much less) and predicts the Stankees will win the World Series. Boo!

---> Capitol Punishment, in a transparent yet effective attempt to give the old comments meter a few extra cranks, requested nominations for Nats-specific MVP and Cy Young awards. Today, Chris releases his picks. Like many (most?) commenters, he praised Brian Schnieder but eventually named Chad Cordero the team MVP and John Patterson the team CYA guy. I guess I'm conflicted; Cordero's definitely worthy of something, but I can't wrap my head around a guy being an MVP of anything yet also losing a Cy Young award (of any sort) to another pitcher.

---> Yuda provides his list of the top games of the Nats' (current edition) inaugural season. He also wants to know your list. Obviously, that bizarre June game in the Los Angeles Suburb of Anaheim is going to rate highly on anyone's list. I'd also nominate an April game in Atlanta. After a rain delay, the Nats rallied against then-Braves' closer Danny Kolb (heh!), capped by a Schnieder double. That was probably the moment when I suspected that this team could be something special. In a sense, it might be a more appropriate memory than anything from the ten-game winning streak in June, since that early game only gave hints of glory, not the full-born fool's gold of June. Ah well . . .


_______________

New blogs!

I've been meaning to add these to the sidebar, and still will:

---> Just a Nats Fan
---> Curly W
---> ¬°Blog! (I've been really derelict in failing to add this one; sorry!)

There's another one (is it called "Nats Triple Play"?), but I can't find it right now. A little help here?

Monday, October 03, 2005

You're gonna make me lonesome when you go


The Phillies just plain spanked the Nats yesterday, yet it didn't seem like that mattered. It kept the Phils in the wild card race (the actual one) for a moment or two, and it ruined the Nats' shot at a winning season, but that was sort of tangential.

Sunday afternoon completed baseball's first season back in the DC area (and, more specifically, in DC) in over three decades, and I am overjoyed I had a chance to attend this final game of the 2005 season. The game itself was not tremendously memorable---aside from, perhaps, Ryan Church's upper deck homer and maybe my circuitous adventure trying to replace someone's beer I accidentally spilled. But I had a great time nonetheless, and this being only my third trip to RFK this season, I felt a good dose of vicarious pride and commitment at the end, after the final out was recorded, when the Nats---both on the field and on the video board---thanked the fans for a truly special year.

My satisfaction was all-the-more enhanced by the opportunity to take in the game with a couple of Nats bloggers. I can now add Chris Needham (Capitol Punishment) and Ryan Moore (Distinguished Senators) to the list of Nats bloggers I've met in person. The list now stands at four, but that's only if you count me. Otherwise, I had previously only met Brick Barrientos (Eucalyptus), with whom I enjoyed a June victory.

The Nats did not come particularly close to pulling one out yesterday, but as I noted (and, as with the game with Brick in June), that didn't seem to matter, at least on a certain level. I had a great time taking in the game with Chris (and his old college roommate, Shaun) and Ryan (and his better half, Karen). Thanks for a fun afternoon!


___________________

And now it's all over, at least until the Hot Stove League. All that's left are the dedications and retrospectives. Boz has a nice one today, but all in all, I prefer Rocket's.

Well, I might as well add one, I suppose. Periodically, I've employed the somewhat lame and probably cliched schtick of converting Bob Dylan's material for my own blogging purposes. I would give thousands of reasons why I do this, but usually it comes down to two factors: 1) I get lazy, and 2) I like Bob Dylan.

Maybe that's the case here, or maybe the old mumbler has provided a song that fits the occasion. If you're an old diehard who ached previously for the Senators II (or, if you're a bit older, Senators I) and year-after-year suffered in unrequired dismay, or if you're like me who cheered and supported great teams but maybe didn't find true sporting love until this season, this one's for you:

I've seen love go by my door
It's never been this close before
Never been so easy or so slow.
Been shooting in the dark too long
When somethin's not right it's wrong
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.

Dragon clouds so high above
I've only known careless love,
It's always hit me from below.
This time around it's more correct
Right on target, so direct,
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.

. . .

Fortunately, though, we get to see our Nats again next spring.

ADJUSTED PLAYOFFS!



Load up the catchy rock music snippet, FOXSports. Hey, FOX Entertainment, prepare that memorable one-liner for your next hit show ("You're risking a patient's life!!!") ---or not ("Her father's the district attorney!!!"). While you're at it, bring back the cast of Girls' Club.

On second thought, hold all that stuff.

Why settle for "actual" playoffs, when we can have "should-be-actual" playoffs? "That can be done?" you ask. For sure:

THE ADJUSTED PLAYOFFS!

Yes!

These adjusted athletes play for more than passion, more than pride, and certainly more than the love of the game. If you can believe it, they also play for more than money. Something better is out there, adjusting itself. That something is the Goblet of Third Order Wins.



Well-adjusted!

Okay, here's how the game works: the adjusted participants are determined based on the Baseball Prospectus' Adjusted Standings; as luck would have it, the Adjusted Playoffs assume the same form and (nearly; see footnote) progression as the far-inferior "real" playoffs. That makes it easier, you know.

I have not yet decided what course the Adjusted Postseason will take---whether by running simulations on MVP Baseball '05, convincing a neighbor to play a game or two of RBI Baseball every evening, or seeing whether my dog selects the bush or grass in which to relief herself---but I've got time, because at current there's a hot adjusted wild card race yet to be determined. [UPDATE: SEE BELOW!]

Here are the adjusted entrants as of the moment. All of these teams can fly Adjusted Flags, proudly and forever:

---> New York Yankees (AL East adjusted champions)
---> Cleveland Indians (AL Central adjusted champions)*
---> Oakland Athletics (AL West adjusted champions)
---> Boston Red Sox (AL adjusted wild card entrant)
---> Philadelphia Phillies (NL East adjusted champions)
---> St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central adjusted champions)
---> San Diego Padres (NL West adjusted champions)

As teased previously, one race remains: NL adjusted wild card. Prospectus is still entering the data, apparently; I imagine the Houston Astros might over-adjust the New York Mets, but we'll have to see. [UPDATE: Final returns are in, and . . . CONGRATULATIONS TO THE NEW YORK METS, 2005 NL ADJUSTED WILD CARD!!!]

You might be wondering why there's such a thing as the Adjusted Playoffs, when the point of making the adjustments in the first place is to refine our perspective of who is stronger and who is weaker over a long season. However, I think the answer is obvious: to see if Billy Beane's adjusted $%#@ works in the playoffs.

So, check back in periodically to see how the Adjusted Postseason progresses. I'll provide the critical information on my sidebar, and game recaps will be placed in this space. Survive and advance, baby!

* Adjusted home field advantage throughout.

[Lest I give you the wrong impression, the idea certainly isn't original to me. It might not even be original to the Yudites, but that's as far as I'm attributing.]

Friday, September 30, 2005

Well . . . hmmmm . . . ummmm. Crap.

OR, Oh, I see. Then everything is wrapped up in a neat little package. Really, I mean that. Sorry if it sounded sarcastic.

Initially, I theorized why Jim Bowden would designate Claudio Vargas for assignment. Then, I joined the cacophony of Bodes-ridicule, in part based on the belief that Vargas could have still been optioned to the minors rather than waived. Now, I realize that this belief was incorrect.

In short, there are angles from which to attack the handling and surrender of Vargas---who, for six bright weeks or so, was pitching pretty well for Arizona. For one, you could argue that the Nats hurried Vargas back too quickly and then were forced to dump him when he pitched miserably in May; for another, you could be perplexed that Bowden couldn't swing a single deal for Vargas, for anything in return. But, to get to the "in short" part, it is mistaken, unfounded, and unfair to attack him for botching the MLB transaction rules---or, perhaps worse, to operate in contravention of them.

On this point, Bowden didn't screw up.

Why did we,
in the Natosphere? The key, as it turned out, was something that we didn't know then but do know now: Vargas was on optional assignment with the Marlins in 2001.

Everything flows from there; however, to make sure we're looking at it correctly this time, I'll show the work.

First,
on options:


After three years as a pro, a player must be
protected on a team's 40-man roster, or he is eligible for the Rule 5 draft . . . . Once he's served those three years, and assuming he is added to the 40-man roster, his club then has what are called "options" on him.
When a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man Major League roster, he is on "optional assignment." One common misconception about the rules is that a player may only be "optioned out" three times. Actually, each player has three option years, and he can be sent up and down as many times as the club chooses within those three seasons.
When you hear that a player is "out of options," that means he's been on the 40-man roster during three different seasons, beginning with his fourth as a pro, and to be sent down again he'll have to clear waivers . . .
Now, to apply that to
Vargas:

---> His first professional season was 1998. (Though he signed with the Florida Marlins in 1995, as a 17 year old.) He barely saw any action, and the first question---one which would contribute to our doom later---is whether that counted as a full "year in the pros" for the purpose of the date on which he needed to be added to the 40-man roster. I guess it did, as we'll see.

---> In 1999, he pitched in the minors, not on the 40-man roster.

---> In 2000, he pitched in the minors, not on the 40-man roster.

---> In 2001, however, he appeared on the
afore-linked March 16 transactions list:


Florida Marlins: Optioned RHPs Hector Almonte and Gary Knotts to AAA-Calgary. Optioned LHP Geoff Goetz, RHP Claudio Vargas, and OF Abraham Nunez to AA-Portland. Optioned RHPs Wes Anderson and Josh Beckett to A-Brevard County. Re-assigned LHPs Benito Baez and Michael Tejera, RHPs Mark Brownson, Brian Edmondson, Gabe Molina, Johnny Ruffin, and Doug Walls, Cs Matt Frick, Mandy Romero, Matt Treanor, and Dusty Wathan, 2B Joe Espada, 3Bs Chris Clapinski and Mike Gulan, SS Derek Wathan, and OF Edgard Clemente to minor-league camp.
(emphasis added)


Well, Frick.

That's our clue that Vargas had been added to the 40-man roster. None of us---the Nats bloggers with egg on our faces now---knew this until
Yuda discovered it today. (And we weren't the only ones surprised.)

Okay, so 2001 is Option Year No. 1. Vargas spent the entire season at Double-A Portland.

---> In 2002, Option Year No. 2, Vargas spent the entire year in the minors.

---> In 2003, Option Year No. 3, Vargas made his big league debut (and actually pitched pretty well for the Expos).

---> In 2004, Option Year No. 4, Vargas again shuttled between the majors and minors, this time burdened by injury.

Wait a minute; Option Year No. 4? How is that possible? Shouldn't he have been exposed to waivers in 2004?

Actually, no. Recall that Vargas was on the 40-man roster in 2001 but did not appear in the big leagues that regular season. In such an event, the player is assigned a fourth option year. Hence, 2004 was indeed Option Year No. 4, and . . .

---> In 2005, Vargas was truly "out of options" (which means we was out of seasons to be placed on "optional assignment"). He started the year in the minors on a rehab assignment, got called up, pitched very poorly, and then gonzo.

The key was Vargas' presence on the 40-man roster in 2001; if his first appearance there had been in 2002, then under the exception provided above, 2005 would have been the legitimate Option Year No. 4. Remember, he didn't pitch in the majors in 2002, either.

But, instead, Vargas had used up his option years by the start of '05. We---myself included, obviously---didn't know this. Perhaps we should have assumed better about Jim Bowden. Regardless, mea culpa, Bodes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Smul-bhit?

Wayne Knight is officially freaked out award, September 28

Capitol Punishment directs us to a nugget at DCRTV rumoring that "Emmis broadcasting head Jeff Smulyan probably won't land the [Washington Nationals]. Sources tell us that he's being "set up" to eventually buy the Cincinnati Reds . . . "

Why is Wayne Knight assuming an increasingly uncomfortable and spooked countenance today? Because this rumor was already noted at the Ballpark Guys forum yesterday:

From what's being said, it looks like the future Nats ownership may depend on (of all things) the Cincinnati situation. If Maury is right, and Reinsdorf is pushing for Smulyan, it may be less because of the labor situation (I doubt Malek or the Lerners are going to be very pro-MLBPA, and no one expects a major war over the 2006 CBA anyway) than because Reinsdorf wants his buddy Jeff back in.If Carl Lindner is in fact going to sell his 51.5% of the Reds(and that apparently is not certain yet), and Smulyan can buy it, Bud can make just about everybody happy, which he likes to do. D.C. will get its local ownership, Smulyan will get his reentry to the lodge, and Cincinnati will get an owner less objectionable to them than he would be to DC (he lives closer to Cincy, and no one thinks the Reds are going to be moved) who would just about have to be an improvement over Lindner.

This gets me thinking about where this rumor originated:

---> did the BPG guy get it from DCRTV Dave?
---> did DCRTV Dave get it from the BPG guy?
---> did they hear it from a common source?

My mind is dazed with the possibilities and ramifications; DCRTV Dave wouldn't report as a rumor something posted on a message board, would he? Anyway, I'm going to stop now, because I feel like I'm looking for "Quelle".

I just know that I don't want Jeff Smulyan to own that Nats, that's all.

Lesson: the pros already know


The Nats pounded the Marlins last night, and I mean really pounded them. Washington dropped an eleven-spot on the festering Fish. If you need evidence to underscore how far the Marlins have fallen in a very short time, read that previous sentence: the Nats scored in double figures.

How long had it been? I resolved myself to exhaust two minutes of my life looking it up. I "discovered" that it had been a long time---I mean, an extremely long time.

But then I realized I didn't need to look it up: the beat writers already went there. Oh, well.

Notwithstanding St. Barry's strange, slight error (it had been since May 7, not May 11), all the big guys covering the Nats included the factoid that the last time the team had scored in double figures was early May. Rocket Bill Ladson wins the completeness award, noting not only "when" but "how many" (fourth time the Nats have hit double figures).

Since I looked it up, I might as well note a couple useless pieces of trivia:

---> the Nats are 4-7 in "games in which either team has scored in double figures"; and,
---> the Nats' "worst month" in such games was, strangely, their storied "best month"---which would be June, when the Nats went 20-6 overall but 0-2 in the double figure games. Pythagoras says hi.

Anyway, I'm definitely not going to look this up (help me out again, professionals), but I suspect the 11 games in which either side has hit double figures represent a very low figure, relative to the rest of the league. That would make sense, of course, considering the home park, the anemic offense, and the generally solid pitching.


___________________

Did you know?

Andruw Jones is considered by many or most BBWAA-types as the late frontrunner for National League MVP honors. Suffice it to say Jones, who sports 51 homers and 128 ribbies, would not win the award based on his batting average.

Quick: When was the last time an MVP batted equal to, or worse than, Jones' current .264 average? [answer below]














Answer: Never! (at least among position players, of course).

The lowest batting average by an MVP on record is Marty Marion's .267 in 1944.


__________________

An amazing streak ended last night, as Greg Maddux and the Cubs fell to the Pirates, 5-3, in Chicago. This loss thwarted Maddux's late bid to extend his string of consecutive seasons with at least 15 victories to 18 years.

The practice of crediting "wins" to individual pitchers is, in my estimation, a beknighted one. Nevertheless, Maddux's streak, which began in 1988, is a monument to his greatness and durability. Consider all the top pitchers that have come and gone in the years 1988-2004. (Consider that some top pitchers essentially came and went in just the years surrounding one of those dates, like Teddy Higuera.) Consider that Roger Clemens, an even greater pitcher than Maddux, had:

not one,
not two,
not three,
not four,
not five,
not six, but

seven seasons of fewer than 15 victories between '88 and '04 (and he's working on another one this time around, through no fault of his own, of course).

Maddux's streak is nothing short than amazing, in other words. Of course, there's a reason for that characterization: the 17-season streak is a major league record. It's a shame to see it end.

The streak nearly ended, in 1990, at two seasons. Maddux suffered through a severe mid-summer slump, and then-manager Don Zimmer actually promised to swim "across Lake Michigan" if Maddux ever won another game. Inevitably, he did---and Zimmer fulfilled his promise by swimming across a very small section of the lake.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

22 Short Films about Springfield


I thought about composing a ballad (or ripping off someone better's) in praise of Hector Carrasco, but I think I'm suffering from tendonitis in my blogging arm. After giving it an aborted go in the blogpen this morning, I figured it would be best to give the ol' alto queso a rest. Instead, I'm going to employ Blogger's Copout No. 32 and just link to interesting stuff from the other Nats bloggers (in no particular order):

--->
Capitol Punishment has been a busy little bee. If you're in the mood for negative motivation, I commend you to this post on the price of winning too much between now and October 2: free agent draft pick compensation. Wonky goodness!

--->
Nationals Interest unfurls a grand welcome mat A.J. Burnett, current/ex- (or ex/current-) Florida Marlin. I'm not certain the Nats can budget both Burnett and a retained Esteban Loiaza, as the NI guys envision, but that sure would make for a nice four-man rotation. Whoa! Who are we to call Hector Carrasco a fifth starter?

--->
Ball-Wonk is using his creative powers for evil, as per usual.

--->
Distinguished Senators takes Frank Robinson to task for being a cranky and spiteful old man, also as per usual. In addition, look for the world's first comparison of Brian Roberts to Rick Short.

--->
Beltway Boys punishes us mercilessly by posting the worst picture of Hondo known to man. My initial reaction was, strangely, "Arvid Engin as a coal miner."

--->
Nationals Farm Authority reviews the Nats' dearth of upper-level prospects, starting at New Orleans. Quick, get me some quaaludes.

--->
Nats Nation reviews the life and times of Hall of Fame Negro Leaguer Buck Leonard. Did you know that, "[y]ears before the color barrier was broken in professional baseball, Senators owner Clark Griffith inquired to Leonard if he and Josh would be interested in playing in the majors, but Griffith never went through with the idea"?

--->
Nationals Opinion throws a resigned but appreciative white towel.

---> Did you know that
Nationalz personally witnessed our Natty Nats sweep the Mets in Shea a week or two ago? Iiiiiiit's true.

--->
Eucalyptus provides lots of interesting stuff, including a continuation of the "DC Baseball birthday" feature. Which former (old school) Nat committed suicide at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco? Let's just say it was a no-Win situation . . .

--->
Nasty Nats kills two birds with one stone: he praises Hector Carrasco and continues to be all over Tony Kornheiser like male pattern baldness on a columnist.

--->
RFK Cheap Seats (formerly "Section 527") believes the children are our future, teach Dutch well and let him lead the way. (Show them all the beauty Kory Casto posseses inside?)

--->
Just a Nats Fan innovates with an online magazine that looks like a "real" magazine, only it's online. Oh, and she loves Gary Bennett. (Don't ask!)

--->
Thurdl Sports ("Where I'm Not Cheering for the Saints") is noodling divisional realigment scenarios. I love that stuff!

--->
Nats Blog isolates some killer defeats. You'll never guessed which game ranked No. 1 in that category. (Actually, you probably will.)

--->
OMG finds solace in the fact that, although the Nats screwed up last time against Florida, at least they didn't aid and abet a Marlins' playoff run.

--->
Donutball, Donutball, wherefore art thou, Donutball.

---> And, finally,
District of Baseball and William World News continue to do their yeoman's work---among other things, making my breakfast informative.

And that's it. I don't think I missed anyone, but if I did, you can find my blogging arm in the whirlpool.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Order 86

(Well, 86th loss probably tonight)

A few months ago, District of Baseball featured a poll about Peter Angelos, in which "Emperor Palpatine" was one of the choices for best comp to ol' Capt. Asbestos. (At least, I'm pretty sure it did, although the "older polls" page doesn't reference that particular one.)

Well, lest you think the comparison is an exaggeration, I (or, more accurately, FoxSports.com) present you with ¬°THIS!:

(ready?)


(are you sure?)


(are you sure that you're sure?)

(okay . . . )




Remove the suit and tie; add a robe and cowl. You get this:



It works on so many levels, doesn't it?

By the way, in an effort to add even a little substance to this post, I'll agree heartily wtih Ken Rosenthal's conclusion: Angelos should get out---like yesterday. Unlike many Nats' fans, I have no inherent hate for all things Baltimore; I spent many years of my life rooting for the O's, and I think they have a great fanbase, full of passionate and knowledgeable fans. I'd love to be able to enjoy some success for the O's, but of course that would require the O's actually to have success.

That won't happen again until Angelos and his boys get out and stay out. And, while he's leaving, he could kindly hand back the Nats' television rights, too.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Pursuit of Hector


Remember that nonsensical line from Bill Clinton's second inaugural address? You know the one: "Nothing big ever came from being small." Everyone near where I was standing shrugged at that one, too.

The line didn't tangle up Hector Carrasco, though. Why, if his quote in
Rocket Bill's Sunday notes column is any indication, Hector's taken the big guy's words to heart:

Last Thursday, Carrasco made his third consecutive start and shut out the Giants for 5 2/3 innings. He struck out a career-high eight batters and walked four. As a starter, he has given up two runs in 15 2/3 innings (1.15 ERA) and struck out 17. He has taken a liking to his new role, and
would like to be strictly a starter next season.

Carrasco, exhibiting some rather "big-thinking," also noted this preference
in a story by Barry Svrluga on Friday. In that article, St. Barry reported that Randy St. Claire has introduced a changeup into Carrasco's arsenal, and this addition was cited as a key to Carrasco's success. The article referenced a "conundrum the Nationals find themselves in now" concerning Carrasco's future with the team (assuming he's indeed coming back). Carrasco, of course, wants to be known as a starter; Frank Robinson seemed to envision a swing-man.

Carrasco turns 36 next month and has appeared in 560 career games; over the years, he's made all of four starts, including his last three outstanding appearances. Let's imagine that, pursuant with his hopes and dreams, Carrasco successfully transitions to starting pitching next season. I offer that this accomplishment would be almost unprecedented in the history of Major League Baseball.

Here's the all-time leaders in career appearances (Nos. 1-100); this list starts at 647 appearances. And here's the active leaders; this list starts at 588 career appearances, which nearly brings us to Carrasco.

Has there ever been a pitcher who has done what Carrasco seeks to do? That is, has anyone transitioned from career reliever to starting pitcher well into his thirties and with at least 500-600 career appearances under his belt? Unless I'm missing someone, I see only one:

Craig Lefferts.

Entering the 1992 season, Lefferts was 34 years old and had appeared in 582 career games. He owned five career starts (just like Carrasco, as of tomorrow evening), and those five were a really, really long time ago---back in his rookie season of 1983. For much of his career, Lefferts had been your typical No. 1 lefty reliever/fireman, back before the emergence of
the lovable LOOGY. After debuting with the Cubs in '83, he spent the better part of the next decade shuttling between San Diego and San Francisco. He was a key member of two World Series (losers') bullpens (Pads in '84, Giants in '89) and sported a work product good for an ERA+ around the 110s. Based upon my recollection of a subset of Giants' fandom back then (relatives in the Bay Area whom I'd visit in the summers), Lefferts was regarded as decent but not reliable.

In '91, Lefferts had his worst season. Though he matched his career high with 23 saves, Lefferts posted then-career worsts in ERA (3.91) and ERA+ (97). It wasn't an excruciatingly horrid season, but back in those pre-offensive explosion days a near-four ERA from your bullpen ace just wouldn't do. (Come to think of it, such performance wouldn't even do in these days.)

Lefferts, who started those aforementioned five games as a guy in his mid-20s nearly a decade earlier, converted to a rotation starter in 1992. I seem to recall the move was long-discussed, though I could be making that up. At any rate, Lefferts was purely a starter for both the Padres (27 starts) and, during a failed stretch run, the Orioles (five starts). The results, on the whole, were so-so (98 ERA+).

The salient point is that I'm not sure this had ever happened before in the history of the major leagues. I could be missing someone, but I don't think I am.

Should Carrasco get his wish of claiming a starting role---and should he actually keep the spot---he'd follow in Lefferts' legacy, but Carrasco's feat would almost inarguably represent a more extreme conversion. First of all, though he owned only those five starts long ago, Lefferts was actually treated as a starter in those outings; twice, he pitched at least seven innings, and in one of those games he pitched into the eighth. Carrasco,
as previously noted, made his starting debut in 2000 on a short and strictly emergency basis; late this season, he's building stamina, but I don't see him going "starter's innings" in his final two shots before the end of the year.

Beyond that, Carrasco is a year or two older than Lefferts was, and he is a "modern" reliever---whereas Lefferts was a "1980s" reliever. The long and short of that is Carrasco's average appearance historically has been much shorter than Lefferts' average appearance, he routinely would go two or three batters longer. That might not mean much when we're talking about starting pitching, but it does indicate that Lefferts was used to being stretched out longer.

In sum, I think Lefferts (for one season, as it were) did something that had never been done before; Carrasco, if he does likewise, would also in a sense be doing something unprecedented.


________________

Rightly or wrongly, it is impossible to consider Carrasco's unexpected career twist without thinking about
Chuck McElroy. Those who followed the Orioles in recent seasons probably remember a couple of startling appearances by McElroy in late September 2000: in two unexpected starts, McElroy allowed one run in 11 innings---against two playoff teams, at that! (Oakland and New York, if you're keeping score.)

McElroy was installed as the O's fifth starter out of the box in '01, and he was legitimately used that way. Five of McElroy's first six '01 appearances were as a starter (the one exception was a blow-out loss to Detroit in which he recorded two outs); however, McElroy pitched horridly in all but the first start, and the experiment ended.

McElroy, almost 33 when he made those two late-season starts in 2000, is perhaps more comparable to Carrasco than Lefferts was. He had no previous starting experience (to say nothing of not having pitched into the eighth as a starter, as Lefferts had), and his past usage was similar to Carrasco's.


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All of this is not to say that Carrasco can't transition into successful (and healthy) starting pitcher, but it is to say that it's not particularly likely. In other words, the Nats should not bank of it. Fortunately, St. Barry's article portrays Carrasco's wish as a rather singular one.

Robinson's apparent vision of Carrasco as a swing-man---or, as Bill James once called it, a "staff stabilizer": a guy who can start and relieve as necessary---is perhaps more realistic. Again, it's not something that has a whole lot of basis in the history of baseball; in fact, such a late-career change, even of this lesser magnitude, would be of essentially the same precedential value. Armed with both opportunity and his new changeup, however, maybe Carrasco can do this. Even 100-110 innings of swing work would be a boon.

Nevertheless, I find myself skeptical with Carrasco. Too much could happen between now and next season. That includes contractual considerations (recall Carrasco was a lowly non-roster invitee and figures to make guaranteed money somewhere), but it also accounts for the tweaks and tears 36 year-olds invariably receive. Who's to say he doesn't experience tightness in his shoulder or elbow next spring? That would scuttle plans of extending him out rather quickly.

The question remains, though, whether the answer to the question "Why hasn't Hector Carrasco started previously?" is Opportunity or Skill. (Or maybe the first follows the second? That was my original position, a week or two ago.) I confess he's doing marvelous work in demonstrating the former to be the case and---perhaps in a more limited basis next year---there's no reason beyond skepiticism or speculation why he can't keep on answering the question in the same way.


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