Sunday, April 10, 2005

What the future Bodes

Newsflash! Guy wants to keep his job!

Mike Wise of the WaPo provides the big scoop: Jim Bowden would prefer staying employed. Film at eleven!

Wise's column transcends mere "puff piece." It's the most embarrassing thing I've read since Laura Vescey of the Baltimore Sun referred to B.J. Surhoff as "manly" and "meaty." Try this paragraph on for size:

His hair -- full, coiffed and parted -- is reddish-blond. His face is tanned, if slightly creased and sunburned. He was standing behind the batting cage late Saturday afternoon, wearing a pastel turquoise shirt that would have made "Miami Vice" star Don Johnson proud. He calls people "Dawg" often, as in, "What kind of story you writin', Dawg?" During spring training, Bowden wore loose-fitting nylon sweat suits so often the Nationals players began to call him "Eminem." He has a little of that Grandma-trying-to-slip-on-Spandex in him, a primal desire to defy age.

That last sentence is a bit heavy on the "eew"-factor, but besides that . . . if Bowden were a fictional character, he'd be a Gary Stu.

One could even argue that Wise presents a fictional character in this column; for support, check out this:

[After chronicling the recent exploits of Vinny Castilla and Jose Guillen, two of Bowden's big offseason acquisitions . . . ] The lone struggling player Bowden traded for, Cristian Guzman, was moved from second to eighth in the batting order by Manager Frank Robinson. Guzman responded by
drawing two walks and doubling. Just like that, Bowden was 3 for 3.

Obviously, Bowden didn't trade for Guzman; little Guzzy signed as a free agent to exceedingly generous terms. More substantively, Guzman has been such a raving success thus far that . . .

. . . he was moved back to the eighth spot in the batting order. In truth, as Frank Robinson points out, this move should be interpreted more as a fitting realignment than as a rash, punitive measure. Nevertheless, Wise's column does not reflect today's events---or, rather, non-events. In the 8-0 loss to the Marlins, Guzman went 0-for-3 with a whiff. He's now hitting .130, which by my calculations, is a grand 3-for-23 batting line.

---Speaking of Guzman, one of yesterday's posts here quoted various blogs on the subject of just how much he has stunk so far. In my haste, I left off a pretty nifty one-liner from our buddy Eucalyptus:

If Christian Gomez batted second for the Nationals, would anyone know the difference?

According to the link provided by Eucalyptus, Christian Gomez in a midfielder for the D.C. United. (By the way, did you notice that there's MLS teams now named F.C. Dallas and---my personal favorite---Real Salt Lake? Real Salt Lake? That's funny, for some reason.)

As noted, yesterday's post was rather hastily done, so I want to make sure that my point is clear: I think there's two kinds of criticism that can be at work. On the one hand, you can have a certain generalized, sedimentary criticism---i.e., "Guzman just can't hit a lick, and he won't for as long as the Nationals employ him." On the other hand, there's something of a more situational criticism---i.e., "What the hell is Robinson doing hitting Guzman second in the order?"

In quoting the various bloggers, I fear I may have conflated the two, because I was not per se citing any single one for the first proposition. I was just saying to beware of it, because one can often look silly in hindsight if a major league player performs beyond the capabilities an analyst strictly sets for him. That's why I used the Garret Anderson quotations from Baseball Prospectus; I think they serve the lesson well.

The second criticism is much more legitimate, in my estimation. And, bearing this out, is Ballwonk's post from yesterday. Ballwonk, of course, has tracked Guzman's struggles closely, creating recurring "Guzman Watch"---updated and entertaining reports on a daily basis. As it turns out, Ballwonk's focus was on Guzman hitting second---a batting order position the Wonkster fervently believed was not appropriate for Guzman. Well, Robinson moves Guzman out of the two-hole, and here's Ballwonk's reaction:

But seeing as how Guzman plays like a classic number eight batter - solid infield defense, couldn't hit a blow-up punching doll - BallWonk will suspend the Guzman watch while the Man of La Guzma bats eighth. Especially when he bats eighth and avoids hitting grounders up the middle every time.

Exactly. Ballwonk's criticism was inspired by an inappropriate position occupied by Guzman---not by any kind of blogging fiat that this guy inherently sucks.

Granted, Guzman does sort of suck on a certain level, but baseball is a variable enough sport that an established major leaguer with guaranteed playing time (and especially one, like Guzman, who does not strike out a ton) will often fluke out a .310 season or muscle up and spank 15-18 homers, just like that. And then we, the bloggers, end up looking foolish.

So it is worthwhile for me to acknowledge quite clearly that, overwhelmingly, the criticism of Guzman has been inspired by him simply batting where he shouldn't be batting.

Of course, we can continue to rag on Guzman if he keeps on hitting .130, or if he .240's his way to sub-mediocrity, or for whatever reason. After all, it is true that he's not an especially great player. And, if one's not an especially great player, often the player will be especially bad, too. But I wanted to make sure that I clearly pointed out the distinction that I should have yesterday.

Oh by the way, obviously the above selection doesn't speak to criticisms of contractual terms, etc. Speaking of which . . .

---There's a new blog; it's called John's Box'o'Rants and is the creation of John White, who's a big Nats Fan Clubber and goes by "JMadison," I think, at the Ballpark Guys forum. In one of his "rants," he refers to Guzman as "The Sixteen Million Dollar Groundout." Ha!

---Done and done? Antonio Osuna got the holy hell beat out of him on Friday night, trashing a reasonably close game against the Marlins into true garbage time. In all, Osuna gave up six runs and only retired one batter. After the game, Osuna was dismissive of his pathetic effort---well, that or he just wanted to forget it quickly:

"My arm feels much better. It was just a bad day," said Osuna, who had elbow problems during Spring Training. "Saturday is just another day. I hope today is my day."

Well, Sunday was Friday all over again. After Joey Eischen struggled to start the eighth, Osuna took the ball and pretty much puked on it. That might have worked out better for him, anyway; at least, chunks of bacon'n'egg could weighed down the ball and provided some action on his pitches. Yeah, I know; that's disgusting. Anyway, this time out, Osuna gave up four runs on four hits (including a homer) and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.

For the weekend, Osuna pitched a full inning and surrended 10 runs. His ERA is now 42.43, which sounds more like a subjective judge's score at the Olympics than a major league earned run average.

Capitol Punishment Chris sums up growing sentiment on Osuna quite well; maybe Osuna really is toast.

I wonder, though, why now? Osuna has been reasonably healthy (for him) the past few seasons, and last year he struck out a batter an inning with a three-to-one strikeout/walk ratio. Even if he only pitched half-an-inning, he didn't seem like a guy ready for a steep decline. (Of course, who knows really how steep the decline is? He's not the only reliever to get torched in consecutive outings, and he wouldn't be the first to come back from it. Then again, he looks---or, should I say, sounds---completely inept at this point.)

Rocket Bill touched a theme from earlier in spring training in yesterday's article; maybe it explains Osuna's troubles or maybe it doesn't:

Osuna has been playing with a heavy heart all spring. His father, Alberto, has throat cancer, and the right-hander recently learned that his mother, Antonia, needs heart bypass surgery. Osuna said his mother had the procedure before, but doesn't plan to go through another one. "I'm calling Mexico every day -- once in the morning and once after the game," Osuna said. "Every year, I need to go to my home a couple of times because my mom and my dad are always sick. I never stay [in Mexico] all year and I think about them a lot."

Perhaps Osuna's heart just isn't in it. Of course, from the looks of it, worrying about his parents is a seasonal thing for Osuna.

At any rate, if Osuna is truly distracted, I think he should be placed on that Unable to Perform---Grieving list for a spell, or Randy St. Claire should conjure up an injury that would allow Bowden to place Osuna on the disabled list. Or perhaps Osuna really is injured?

Maybe he has a strained goiter? We can come up with something.

What worries me is that we need to bring up a 12th pitcher this week, especially if Frank is going to tread gingerly with changing pitchers bc of his perception that we have a short staff.

I'd keep Osuna up, nail him to the bench, except for one of these next games when the Braves are beating the holy hell out of us. Let him work mopup for a week or so til he figures out what the eff he's doing.
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