March 2013

Bryce Harper: What’s Next?

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The video below is a supplemental bonus feature for the cover article Bryce Harper: What’s Next?, from Issue 1 of the 2013 Nationals Magazine. Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this one throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.

Detwiler, Stammen: Tour of Duty

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Earlier this offseason, General Martin Dempsey – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – invited Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen on the annual USO holiday tour. While abroad, Detwiler and Stammen sent us daily journal entries detailing the events of their trip.

The video below is bonus content for the full story, which can be found in Issue 1 of the Nationals Magazine. Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.

A WAR Accord

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The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.­ – Robert Burns

Back in late January, as we planned out the feature articles that would appear in Issue 1 of Nationals Magazine (pick up a copy at the ballpark today!) this season, we decided to tackle a baseball statistic that had become one of the game’s biggest contentions: Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. No sooner did we pen the article than outlets across the sport posted similar pieces, outlining many of the same arguments as us. Still, we included a unique angle in our analysis, comparing the net change in WAR of the Nationals and Braves entering 2013, taking into account the three most high-profile replacements on each team during the offseason.

But then two more developments hit us over the past week.

First, our computations for the third and final section of the article, the one that compared the NL East rivals’ offseason moves, included only offensive totals for each team. As a result, our team totals were off. The second revelation, however, rendered that first one obsolete. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, the two sites who kept different versions of the WAR statistic, joined together to come to terms on a redefined level of “replacement player,” thereby ripping up all of our hard-worked math and throwing it out the window anyway.

But hey, that’s just another reason why we’ve gone digital with our publications this year. Now we have a chance to update you with the new, correct numbers, which are an improved way of measuring the players anyway, now that there is a consistent baseline from which to project. And in spite of the change, the numbers still illustrate the underlying point of our article – according to WAR, the Nationals got better through their offseason acquisitions. The Braves? Well, not so much.

So here are the new numbers, as simple as we can give them to you. The Nationals combined for a total WAR of 44.2 in 2012, while the Braves notched a slightly lower 42.4, numbers which played out closely on the field as Washington won the division by four games. Heading into 2013, both teams essentially swapped three major players out and three players in. The newly tabulated 2012 WAR values of those players is ascribed as follows:

Nationals                                Braves

Outgoing                                    Outgoing

Michael Morse (0.0)               Michael Bourn (6.1)

Edwin Jackson (2.2)               Martin Prado (5.6)

Sean Burnett (0.9)                   Chipper Jones (2.6)

Total = 3.1 WAR                       Total = 14.3 WAR

Incoming                                    Incoming

Denard Span (3.6)                     B.J. Upton (3.1)

Dan Haren (1.8)                        Justin Upton (2.0)

Rafael Soriano (1.2)                 Chris Johnson (1.3)

Total = 6.6 WAR                        Total = 6.4 WAR

Net = +3.5 WAR                     Net = -7.9 WAR

Essentially, while the Nationals added an expected 3.5 wins (not to mention the fact that Dan Haren averaged 5.5 WAR per season in his previous four years, a good sign that he can improve on his 1.8 total of last season) the Braves actually LOST 7.9 expected wins. That’s a swing of 11.4 WAR between the two clubs, even higher than our original article’s combined total of 10.6.

So for all our troubles, the news turned out to be even better than we’d originally reported after all.

What They’re Saying – Mike Wilbon

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Following our interview with both Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon of ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, Mr. Wilbon stayed behind to shed some more insight onto what the Nationals mean to him personally and to the Washington D.C. region.

Curly W Live: As a fan of the game of baseball, what do enjoy about Nationals games?

Mike Wilbon: The food is great. The variety of food, the pavilions you can walk. Basically, 20 years from now, all these kids who are going to these games where they see Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, they ought to be enormous fans, where there is loyalty built – real loyalty – to the brand.

I’m not from here. I go to one place, I take my kid to one thing: Nationals games. That’s it. I took him to Nationals-Cardinals, since we both hate the Cardinals. That’s my birthright (laughing). We sat next to a couple from St. Louis who are Nationals Season (Plan) Holders, but they’re from St. Louis. They were the nicest people in the world.

This year, I’ll take him to more like eight or 10 games, because he’s five. When he’s walking out, I’ll be like, “Why do you have that jersey on?”

MikeWilbon2011 (3)“Because I like Bryce Harper.”

Now we’re getting to reasons why you go to baseball games. But to me, that all goes back to the arc of planning for stuff you can’t control. There’s two separate parts: There’s the appeal of coming to something, then there’s the satisfaction you get once you get there.

D.C.’s an event town, it’s not a sports town. But for a baseball team, it’s the hardest one of all, because you’ve got 81 games. To me – and it’s too hot here, so they’ve done the right thing – but you should have as many afternoon games on the front and the back (of the schedule). April, May and September ought to be all day games. I’ve seen what day games do to a franchise: They create an environment where you take your kids and you play hooky. I’m going to say to my son, “Where were you?” and he’s going to say, “I was at school,” and it’s going to be a lie! He’s going to be at the Nats game.

CWL: How has the perception of the Nationals changed since the team arrived in 2005?

MW: People are aware of it. People are aware of baseball. My wife grew up here in the 70’s and 80’s and she doesn’t know anything about it. It’s a learning process, even for people in their mid-40s: They don’t know anything about baseball, I mean, not for real. They may have made a couple of treks over to Camden Yards because their parents took them, or it was a date night, or something like that. But you have to grow up with baseball every day, day-to-day, caring about the team, checking the box score. It’s what I want my kid to grow up with. Most of the people I know in Washington are at least 35 and up, and baseball is not in their soul, from no fault of their own. It’s not in their blood. It’s not a ritualistic thing. I feel for them – I can’t imagine my life without that obsession. Even though I live somewhere else, I want to know what the Cubs did: It’s the first thing I check. That’s changing. It’s sad, but that group’s going to have that void. I don’t know how you get rid of that. I don’t know if living here another 20 years, if my wife would automatically think about the Nationals. The Nationals have to hope the kids who are seven and nine years old, that those are going to be kids who grew up with the Nationals in their consciousness. It’s like starting over, but it’s been eight years. This sort of change is a big-time thing.

CWL: Did you see specific signs of the increased awareness around D.C. last season?

MW: Yeah, yeah. Even on the road. I was in Los Angeles walking through LA Live and I saw a guy in a Strasburg jersey and a Nationals hat. One of the things you can control – the uniforms – are great. They’re great. The combinations are great. The colors – even people who aren’t really Nationals fans are going to get into it. All of that was done well, in my opinion. But the awareness of last year was an adult awareness. Kids don’t know that. Kids don’t pick the team because it’s good, follow the team because it’s good. They follow the team because it’s their team, and I think that is building. That’s taken a while to build and it’s going to take some more years. They have to be successful, but they don’t have to be in the playoffs every year – nobody does that. Even the most popular teams, they don’t do that every year.

CWL: That being said, how much did the 98-win season in 2012 contribute to the change in attitude?

MW: Last year appealed to adults. They got some hardcore adults who didn’t pay attention to baseball all of the sudden on the bandwagon, but to me that’s a separate story of the seeding and of growing baseball in Washington. I think there are two separate things going on: the Nationals as a contender, which is an adult thing, and the Nationals as a civic – and I don’t want to say obligation, but baseball is almost an obligation – something you are tethered to, and it’s not affected by winning. I don’t want to hear, “Oh, in Washington they’re baseball fans because they won last year.” That’s bull. That’s nothing. You want to show me you’re a fan, show me how you react to losing. Winning accelerates the whole process. But God knows, if winning had everything to do with it, Fenway and Wrigley – the Red Sox and the Cubs – would not be overflowing all these years. I think there’s more to it than that.

Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch. Make sure to pick up the first 2013 issue of Nationals Magazine to read the full Q&A with Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon.

NatsFest Photo Gallery

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As we launch into the 2013 season, here are 13 more great photos from an unbelievable NatsFest back on January 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Beginning this year, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.

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13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #4

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#4: Changing of the Guard

For years, the American League East has been looked at as the gold standard among baseball’s divisions, often stacked three or four deep with postseason-caliber clubs. Last year, the Baltimore Orioles laid claim to a Wild Card spot behind the New York Yankees, and the Rays remained in contention until late in the season.

This season, the Yankees are facing a number of injuries to key players, including back-to-back 40 home run-hitter Curtis Granderson and three-fourths of their starting infield in Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. The Red Sox traded away star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and free agent acquisition Carl Crawford along with veteran rotation mainstay Josh Beckett. Tampa Bay sent stalwart starter James Shields to Kansas City in return for top prospect Wil Myers, who will start the year at Triple-A Durham. Baltimore made few improvements to a club that many believed overachieved last season. Really, only Toronto, a 73-win club a year ago, made significant improvements. Given all that, can the AL East really be considered the class of the sport anymore?

Jordan Zimmermann and counterpart Andy Pettite symbolize the shift in power of the respective defending Eastern Division Champions.

Jordan Zimmermann and counterpart Andy Pettite symbolize the shift in power of the respective defending Eastern Division Champions.

One need look no further than its National League counterpart to find a good argument that the power has shifted. The Nationals return a young, potentially improved team from the version that won an MLB-best 98 games in 2012. Atlanta, itself a 94-game winner, plugged the holes created by losses of Chipper Jones and Michael Bourn by acquiring both Upton brothers to complement their young core. Even Philadelphia, coming off a disappointing season, is primed for some measure of return to the form that saw the Phillies win five straight division crowns prior to last season. The Mets still have David Wright and some talented young arms emerging. Only the Marlins seem destined for a true rebuilding year.

That being said, a Nationals-Yankees matchup still offers plenty of intrigue. More still, when one looks at the starting pitching matchup, a duel of two likeable, workmanlike stars in Jordan Zimmermann and Andy Pettitte.

While Roger Clemens garnered many more headlines in his heyday, it was the quiet, affable Pettitte who was so universally admired and who thrived consistently in the background. He was content to succeed without the hype, much the same way that Zimmermann continues to progress into one of the best young pitchers in the game, despite the shadow cast by fellow rotation-mates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

Consider Zimmermann’s accomplishments to this point in his career: the Nationals hidden ace has posted a lower ERA (3.47 to 3.75) and WHIP (1.208 to 1.358) with a substantially better K/BB rate (3.50 to 2.05) than the often more heralded Pettitte over their same aged seasons.

And so, as the two teams and starters meet Friday afternoon in our Nation’s Capital, one could say it will mark a symbolic changing of the guard. The defending champions of their respective divisions, a quiet ace and his veteran squad coming face-to-face with their ascending, youthful counterparts.

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #5

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#5: The Ultimate Ballpark Access

New for 2013, we’re revolutionizing the fan experience at Nationals Park with The Ultimate Ballpark Access. It’s the next generation of ticketing, and it’s exclusively for Nationals fans.

TUBALike anything new and different it will take a little while to get used to, but once you start reaping the benefits we’re sure you’ll be thrilled.

Simply put: in 2013, your card is your ticket. No more worrying about keeping track of paper tickets for every game, for six months or more. Everything is reduced to a single card that fits neatly in your wallet.

By moving your entire Season Plan online, we’ve allowed you to add partners to your plan and share seats via email with just a click. Want to trade in your seats for another game ahead of time? Easy, just use the Future Exchange Program. Miss a game without having a chance to exchange your seats? Turn them in this year and you’ll receive Red Carpet Rewards Points, which you can use to bid on special experiences, autographed items and merchandise, using the new auction feature.

And yes, as many of you have asked, you can still have commemorative tickets printed at the advanced ticket sales window, should you so desire, for only a $3 fee. All proceeds will go directly to the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

Still have questions? Hopefully this will help. And as the crowds continue to grow at Nationals Park, hopefully you will continue to reap the rewards.

Highlights

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9.28.13: Nationals 2, Diamondbacks 0

Stat of the Game: Dan Haren was in command in his final start of the season, scattering four hits over seven scoreless frames.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Another former D-Back, Chad Tracy, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo shot, his first homer since June 17.

It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano got the final three outs to record his 43rd save, second-most in the National League.

Healthy Signs

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The Nationals did not have many questions entering camp this year. They have even fewer as they enter their final game of the Grapefruit League season, after which they will fly north to The District to begin the season ahead. With much of the 25-man roster presumed to be in place before the club even arrived in Viera, there were two major points of concern upon which most of the focus lay all spring: Wilson Ramos’s knee and Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder.

Both were coming off of offseason surgery, but both have steadily progressed through spring. If there were any lingering doubts left in the final 24 hours of their stay in Florida, each put them to bed Wednesday afternoon. Ramos blasted a pair of home runs and Zimmerman crushed three of Washington’s six total long balls in an 11-2 demolition of the division-rival Braves.

Pain free and catching full games again, Wilson Ramos can focus fully on his swing.

Pain free and catching full games again, Wilson Ramos can focus fully on his swing.

Ramos went the other way to right-center for his first roundtripper in the third inning. He followed that up with a mammoth blast to left in the fourth, off the top of the berm at Space Coast Stadium, just at the foot of the electronic scoreboard. They were the catcher’s first two home runs of the spring, but they came at a time when he is finally pain free and able to put all of the focus on his knee behind him.

“In the beginning of spring, I wasn’t working on my swing at all,” explained the backstop. “Three days ago, I finally started working on it.”

The results have paid off immediately.

Zimmerman, meanwhile, rounded into form just as expected. It’s been said repeatedly by manager Davey Johnson that the Nationals third baseman needs exactly 50 at-bats – no more, no less – to get ready for the season. Zimmerman entered the game sitting on 48 for the spring and struck out in his first trip. He then blasted home runs in spring at-bats numbers 50, 51 and 52, sandwiching a couple of moonshots to left around an opposite-field shot over a four-inning span.

With the luxury of gradually easing his way back into playing shape, knowing his skipper had a firm grasp on his projected starting lineup, Zimmerman looks comfortable and refreshed as the team begins packing for the season ahead.

“We’ve pretty much known all spring who our team is,” he said, referencing the unusually high number of returning players entrenched on the roster. “We just used this time to get to doing what we did last year.”

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #6

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#6: Bryce Harper – What’s Next?

COVER-mediumSo far, so good. Bryce Harper entered the league as perhaps the most heralded young prospect in baseball history, and lived up to the nearly overwhelming expectations levied upon him by capturing the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Aptly named after one of Harper’s idols, Jackie Robinson, the award seemed almost predestined to be Harper’s after his signature moment of the 2012 campaign – the teenager’s steal of home off of Phillies hurler Cole Hamels. It’s a move so connected with Robinson with that the image of him doing so is emblazoned upon the trophy itself.

Harper swiped 18 bags while swatting 22 home runs, all in just 139 games. He electrified crowds with his hustle, his raw power and his cannon arm in the outfield. More importantly, he solidified a Nationals lineup as it came into its own, and was instrumental in the run to the club’s first-ever postseason appearance.

So, what’s next? Only time will tell. Make sure to pick up a copy of Nationals Magazine – available at the ballpark starting this Friday, March 29 – in which we talk to Harper about how he hopes to build off his stellar inaugural year.

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