Bowden & Rizzo Post-Mortem, Part Deux

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, September 22, 2008 | , , | 10 comments »

Same format.
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Q (Unidentified): To Rizzo: Can you describe what you look at over the summer leagues and who are the top three candidates in next year's draft if you had to say today?
A (MR): Summer leagues reviewed by Dana Brown, and his staff is feverishly working and scouting right now. Cape Cod is scouted "intensely". "We're well into the beginning of preparation for the '09 draft." As for naming the top three, he said, "It is a long ways from the draft. I don't like to name names of people that we're bearing down and looking at. We're going to do our due diligence on all our players that we have, and Strasburg's name comes up, Green the shortstop at Southern Cal, there's a bunch of names that we feel are on the upper echelon of the 2009 draft."
C (BF): Fairly standard answer. Doesn't want to tip his hand, but Strasburg, as mentioned in any number of baseball publications, is the consensus #1 pick in next year's draft. Now Seattle just has to win one or two of its final seven games.

Q (Unidentified): Why did we have so many injuries? Can we do something about our training staff? Also, "What would we have been, record-wise, if we did not have the injuries this year?"
A (JB): "Always" looking into better ways of training, treatment, etc.
A (MR): "In our minor league system, we've done a phenomenal job of keeping pitchers healthy." "Position player-wise, it's good to draft athletes that are strong, flexible, versatile..."
A (JB): "All of our baseball people felt that if we stayed healthy, and all the players performed up to their potential, we could have gone 82-80."
C (BF): There, my friends, was my favorite answer of the day. Jim Bowden thought this team was talented enough to go 82-80 out of spring training. As far as talent evaluation goes, that simple statement is grounds for dismissal. So either he's telling the truth and has zero concept about how to evaluate personnel to assemble a winning baseball team or he lied to this fan in public in answering this question. It's a classic Bowden answer too. "[I]f all the players performed up to their potential" is the prototypical Bowden deflection statement. He over hypes the players, then when they fail to live up to the inflated expectations he placed on them, it's their fault they failed to reach those expectation.

Q (CS): As far as injuries, aren't there are some injuries you can't do anything about?
A (JB): "When a player is hurt, you're not going to get a player playing up to their potential." "Doctors couldn't understand how [Kearns] could actually be throwing a baseball" due to the chips in his elbow.
C (BF): Of course when a player is playing hurt he's not going to live up to his potential, let alone achieve his normal level of success. Bowden is all about potential instead of realizing what a player is and evaluating him as such. He sees Kearns and thinks, "This guy has the potential to hit 30 home runs" and suddenly, he's got that expectation of him, instead of concentrating on the fact that Kearns has hit more than 20 homers exactly once in his big league career. It's a fairly typical problem of old-school GMs though, to evaluate and plan based on potential instead of performance. That's one of the bigger points that most people fail to grasp about the book Moneyball. The point Michael Lewis was trying to make about Billy Beane wasn't that he was trying to fill his system with "three true outcome" guys, but that he evaluated players based on what they do on the field, not the potential of what they might do.

Q (Unidentified): How do you feel about the success of the teams in the minors, and can you name a couple of the minor leaguers that might make an impact next season?
A (MR): "We're so proud of our young people." He touted the GCL and Dominican teams in addition to the Potomac team. He explained how the team was ranked 28 when he got there and it was #8 last year and hopes to go higher.
A (JB): Jordan Zimmermann. "[He's] the one prospect that we have that the 29 other teams call us on all the time. We feel he has the potential to be a pitcher that goes into our rotation right out of spring training next year." He then went on to say that he expects Zimmerman AND Martis, who won't be 22 until March, to BOTH be in the rotation, along with Lannan and Balestar, giving the team "four young guys under 23" to man the starting rotation.
C (BF): Again, let's tell the media that the 22-year old prospect, who has logged a total of 187 minor league innings, has the potential to start the season in the rotation next year, already setting the player up for blame when he proves he's not ready and forces whoever is in charge to find a suitable replacement. Zimmerman dominated at Single-A Potomac this year and was pretty good at Double-A Harrisburg. But his K/9 has dropped slightly at each stop up the ladder and his ERA was a run and a half higher at Harrisburg than at Potomac. That's not surprising, but you'd think that a team this bad would let a kid dominate at the Double-A level before forcing him into a job at the major league level where he'll be pitching for a last place team.

Q (Dave at Bottomfeeder Baseball): I asked Bowden some follow-ups regarding the middle infield and injuries. Well, I thought they were questions. Listening to the tape, I was pretty fired up and pretty much barked at him and I interrupted him several times. I was pretty rude, and I did apologize after the show was over. Anyway, what I asked was this: When Bonifacio, Gonzalez and Hernandez all revert to their career minor league numbers, who plays second base? And: Injuries happen, but they happen to Guzman, Johnson, Kearns and Young every year. How do you explain away your history for giving out reward contracts?
A (JB): "I think if you look at the back of Guzman's baseball card, and look at games played in his career, you'll find it's about 148 games on average per year. Obviously, we've had him the two years here in Washington he's been hurt. But for the rest of his career that wasn't the story." Then he went on to describe how he "wants to play the game every single day", he "plays the game hard", he "plays the game right', he's "a shortstop", he has "more hits [this year] than David Wright" and I think there was something in there about saving kitties stuck in trees and helping old ladies cross the street.

"We signed [Nick Johnson] to a deal that was significantly below market value, because we thought it was worth taking the risk in case he was healthy. That one didn't work out."

"We think Emilio Bonifacio has a chance to develop into a player like Luis Castillo, he's got tremendous speed-game changing speed; we like him from the left side. If you take his on base percentage from the left side, and take away all his at bats from the right side, you'll like his on base percentage." Also, he reiterated again that he thinks Bonifacio has "the potential to be a lead-off hitter."

C (BF): So I looked at Guzman's baseball card, or the electronic equivalent. In nine seasons, Guz has played 1165 (through Sunday), for an average of 129 games per year. Bowden was only 20 games or so per year off. In fact, he's had exactly two season where he's played in at least 148 games, 2000 and 2002. Since he turned 28, Guzman has played in 182 games in three seasons. HE missed all of 2006, appeared in 46 games in 2007, and 136 out of 156 this season. Saying Guzman has averaged that many games a year is simply blowing smoke. Even in his previously "best" season, 2001 (when he inexplicably received enough MVP votes to rank 16th),he only played 118 games with an OPS+ of 110. He is clearly, at age 30, having his best statistical season, and it's still only worth an OPS+ of 104, barely above average. As he regresses to his career numbers (.269/.307/.386), his "reward" contract will continue to be an albatross. At least he owned up to Johnson's contract being a mistake. He completely ignored Dmitri Young's contract.
By the way, Wright has one more hit than Guzman this season, for what that's worth. His OBP is also 40 points higher, has hit 24 more home runs and driven in 64 more. He also has 9 more steals. Talk about cherry-picking stats, Mr. Bowden.

Bonifacio, in his short big league career, has LH/RH splits of .270/.341/.339 and .150/.167/.275. Considering his major league left-handed splits are about the same as his career total minor league numbers, the difference in the minors has got to be even worse. This is a guy that shouldn't be hitting right handed. Of course Bowden would want to "take away all his at bats from the right side." Look, Luis Castillo is a very good singles hitter and had great speed earlier in his career. But again, he's only had three seasons in his career where his OPS+ was over 100. That makes him serviceable, not an all-star.

Q (FJB): After brown-nosing Charlie Slowes, then kissing Bowden's butt a little bit for hitting on Redding and Perez, he then dropped the hammer. "I look at what you did in Arizona...where you had the crystal ball", etc. ad nauseum. "I see you as a future GM in the league. My question for you is that something you want, to be a General Manager at some point in your career?"
A (MR): "The short answer is yes, I have visions of heading up and organization in the future. But for now, I'm really excited about what we're doing here. We've got great leadership here. We're going in the right direction. We're leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in Arizona in their second year of existence." "We've got great leadership with the Lerner family, and Stan Kasten and with Jim...what we've done here since June of '06...is second to none." "We're the youngest team in the major leagues right now. We're fast, we're athletic, we're exciting to watch. We need a few tweaks here and there and we need patience from our fans." "If you like what we did in Arizona, wait a year or two and you'll love it here in Washington."
C (BF): This was Steven's direct attack to Bowden, and probably what got him worked up enough to confront us after the program. But there's no denying that Rizzo knows what he's doing. The draft is not a crapshoot in his hands. He will make a fine GM someday, let's just hope it's not in Seattle or Philadelphia or New York next season.

Q (BF Staff Photographer Cheryl Nichols): How do you educate a fan base that might not be the most sophisticated baseball fan base, get them to invest and be patient, but is dying for a winning baseball team, and keep them form giving up and abandoning the team because the major league product is so poor right now?
A (JB): "More things like coming out here, talking to fans, talking to the media, answering emails and letters from fans. We've been very up-front and honest with them from the very beginning." Certainly we all understand frustration, we all want to win. But when you do win, you don't want to have to break the team down, you want to be able to sustain the winning, like Atlanta did for 14 years, and that's the blueprint we have."
C (BF): I don't know. I'd probably be happy with the Marlins formula of win the World Series, tear down and suck for four years, win the World Series.

Q (Unidentified): Can Roger Bernadina emerge? Can he start next year?
A (JB): "No question. Roger hit over .320 at both Double-A and Triple-A this year. He stole over 40 bases for the second consecutive year. Although at time he might have some bad jumps or angles on balls, he runs a lot of baseballs down. He's got a good arm, he's very athletic. He needs an opportunity at this level to see what he can do. To say that he fits in talent-wise among our other young outfielders, absolutely. It's just a matter of opportunity for him."
C (BF): I would not be shocked to see Bernadina in centerfield next year, with Milledge in left and Dukes in right. Bernadina is a quality outfielder and did hit very well this season. 2007 he hit a combined .259/.338/.356 primarily in Harrisburg. He's just 24, and you have to figure next year in spring training will be his best opportunity to win a job in the major leagues. If Justin Maxwell come into spring training healthy, the two of these kids will be interesting to watch try to win a job from each other.
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And that's how the Q&A ended. Steven and I did spend some time with Mr. Rizzo, Mr. Bowden and Mr. Kasten after the program. Steven has some very detailed posts on the conversations if you're interested (like you haven't seen them yet). They were all very open with their time, and I appreciated each of them taking the time to chat us up.

Being a fan blogger is a difficult thing at times. We're part fan, part media. We're allowed at some events and not at others. The years at RFK we actually were afforded press box credentials on occasion, but since the move that resource has dried up. But having the team president, GM and Ass't GM available to the public in this type of forum is a unique opportunity, and I only wish it happened more than just once a season, but certainly thankful it happened this once.

There are some folks in baseball that think bloggers hide in their mother's basements, taking the team to task anonymously and do nothing but criticize ownership, management and the players. There are others in the business that realize that the new media isn't going away, that anyone with a computer and the interest can act as correspondent or columnist, and embrace their ideas and opinions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to be able to evaluate and analyze performance, or to project future performance.

Some people think if you don't see a player in person, interact with them, have personal intimate knowledge of them that you can't truly be able to gauge their performance and have some knowledge-based projection of future performance. They are wrong. That's one of the most important functions of fan blogs. We're the media watchdogs of this generation. Newspaper columnists used to serve that function, but anymore the mainstream media is a partner with the team in order to sell the team and to sell copy, that is is the paper even dedicates the resources to cover the team in the first place.

So again, thanks to the Washington Nationals for appearing in this forum and taking questions from their stockholders (the fans) and from the new media watchdogs. We may not agree on some (a lot) of things, but one thing I (and the others in the Natosphere) share with the Nationals is the passion and desire for the team to win. One of the last things Mr. Kasten said to me, when I mentioned that I do this because I want the team to be a winner, is: "That's where people are wrong. As much as you think you want the team to win, we (the team) want it that much more." Both entities want to win for different reasons though, and that's where Mr. Kasten might be missing it. The team wants to win for monetary and professional glory. The fans want to win for civic pride. Which goal is loftier?

10 comments

  1. Steven // September 22, 2008 at 5:42 PM  

    "As much as you think you want the team to win, we (the team) want it that much more."

    I'm dry-heaving.

  2. Maryland Orioles' Fan // September 22, 2008 at 6:55 PM  

    Well said, Dave.

  3. An Briosca Mor // September 23, 2008 at 11:18 AM  

    Jim Bowden thought this team was talented enough to go 82-80 out of spring training. As far as talent evaluation goes, that simple statement is grounds for dismissal. So either he's telling the truth and has zero concept about how to evaluate personnel to assemble a winning baseball team or he lied to this fan in public in answering this question.

    Well, in the pre-season "guess the record" polls in places like BPG Forum, Nationals Journal, etc, there were quite a few people who predicted a .500 record or even better. Obviously Bowden isn't alone in thinking that absent injuries the team that came out of spring training was capable of doing that. So your indictment of him on that statement here seems a bit harsh, wouldn't you say?

  4. An Briosca Mor // September 23, 2008 at 11:31 AM  

    It's a fairly typical problem of old-school GMs though, to evaluate and plan based on potential instead of performance.

    Isn't this pretty much what all those many people who are screaming that Ryan Zimmerman absolutely MUST be signed to a long-term contract NOW, no matter the cost, are doing? Namely evaluating on potential instead of performance?

  5. Dave Nichols // September 23, 2008 at 11:56 AM  

    ABM, i have no doubt that NJ's guess the record had the Nats around .500. analytical forecasts (BP, Pecota, others) had the Nats significantly lower. not 113-loss pace like the previous year, but certainly not near .500.

    As for Zimmerman, it's agreed. the team is taking a careful approach to their young advertising tool, uh, i mean third baseman as far as a long-term deal. he has not produced yet on the level thathis agent feels he ought to be paid, and he has several years to prove it. he's just 23, and if he's healthy next year we should expect his number to look more like his rookie eyar or better.

    the biggest disservice to Zim was Bill Ladson predicting a .325/40/125/25 SB year for him. simply irresponsible sports journalism.

  6. natsfan1a // September 24, 2008 at 9:41 AM  

    Interesting take on the role of fan blogs. I've always read newspaper blogs and articles much more frequently than fan blogs (I appreciate the tradition of applying journalistic ethics and standards, and the tactile experience of reading a print edition with my morning coffee). To me, fan blogs seem to function as team watchdogs more than as media watchdogs.

    As for the MSM approach, my own perception is not that they are trying to sell the team. On the contrary, there has been and continues to be plenty of negative press about the Nats since they came to town (in articles and columns alike). I don't look to MSM reporters to make projections about future performance, but to report on the present situation and give me enough background and/or inside information to let me to reach my own conclusions. Columnists tend to take a different approach, delving into opinion rather than dealing with facts alone, and my own perception is that many fan blogs seem to fit into the columnist niche more than the reporter niche.

  7. Dave Nichols // September 24, 2008 at 10:31 AM  

    1a, thanks for the comment. as you've no doubt realized, i've tried to do both: straight reporting in my game stories, and commentary with my GB&U and other analysis.

    the problem is that the Nats this year seriously curtailed access to the team from bloggers. in the past, we've had press box access and some pre-game access on the field, but that evaporated this year. many teams in sports are embracing bloggers as part of the new media. the Caps give the good bloggers full access. the Nats, however, limit the access and therefore we have to take what we can get.

    and while we can disagree, the MSM has to see itself as a partner with the team. when the team does well, there wil be more interest and they'll sell more papers. since the TV is all controlled and all the broadcasters are team employees, that doesn't matter as much anymore. but the papers, and the blogs, are the only place anymore that can call for accountablility.

    that's why my blog is dedicated to the constructive criticism of the Nats, as it says on the header page of the blog. if good blogs like myself, Fire Jim Bowden, Nationals Enquirer, etc, don't do it, then the fan input in this is limited to sunshiney, favor currying "all is well" type blogs that don't foster discussion or analysis.

    but since you're coming over here, you've got to be interested in some analytical conversation, and i thank you for it. hope to see you back soon :-)

  8. natsfan1a // September 24, 2008 at 11:01 AM  

    Thanks, Dave, for both the background on access and your thoughtful response.

    I agree that both the MSM and the blogs play a role in calling for accountability on the part of the team (my attempted distinction was between calling for accountability on the part of the team and on the part of media).

    I would agree that the team broadcasters are on a different level (though I also appreciate the penchant of our radio broadcasters for not sugar-coating things ;-)).

    I would think that there's room in the Natmosphere for all types of fan blogs (be they sunshiney, cloudy, or somewhere in between). But that's just one reader's opinion.

    Thanks for your dedication to taking a constructive approach.

  9. Dave Nichols // September 24, 2008 at 12:10 PM  

    i didn't mean to imply that the "all is well" blogs didn't have a place. they serve just as important function as the critical blogs.

    more discourse = more information = better educated fans. that's the goal, i think, for all.

  10. natsfan1a // September 24, 2008 at 1:47 PM  

    Thanks for clarifying, Dave. I misinterpreted in that case.