First in War, First in Peace, Last in the NL East
ALSO: BILL JAMES HANDBOOK MAKES TERRIFIC OFF-SEASON COMPANION
IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.
‘Bucking’ The Vote on NL Manager of the Year
Great article on NL Manager of the Year voting [Friday’s HTP]. While I respect the job that Buck did in NY, I felt Rob Thomson was the choice. Brian Snitker and Dave Roberts had the talent and both did a fine job. For Thomson to walk into a chaotic early-season mess like he did and wind up in the World Series is every reason for him to be Manager of the Year! That is how I saw it! It’s always a pleasure to read your column!!
— Pat aka Tom Mahady, Hackensack, NJ
Did you know…
One good Turner deserves another but the Dodgers may not have either now that shortstop Trea and third baseman Justin are free agents . . .
Lefty-hitting contact hitter Masataka Yoshida, a .326 career hitter in Japan, is an Andrew Benintendi clone but with more power — attracting the attention of the Yankees . . .
Yankee outfielder Harrison Bader, raised Catholic but converted to his father’s Jewish faith, has committed to play for Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic . . .
Surprise, surprise: less than a week after winning the World Series, the Astros fired GM James Click and his first lieutenant . . .
The Braves, watching their pocketbook, might just bring back old friends Craig Kimbrel and Andrelton Simmons in the belief that the struggling closer and slick-fielding shortstop still have something left.
The “record-setting” 2022 Nationals
By Andrew C. Sharp
Let us count the ways the Nationals of 2022 smashed a number of long-standing franchise and season records for futility. A 55-107 finish, worst since Washington regained a team in 2005, can do that.
The fifth-place Nationals trailed the 101-win Braves and Mets, who tied, by 46 games in the N.L. East. They finished 14 games behind the fourth-place Marlins, who lost 93 games. The Nationals yielded 855 runs and scored just 603 (3.7 per game). The run differential, an MLB-worst -252, was by far the sorriest in the Montreal/Washington franchise history, which was -209 by the first-year expansion Expos. The Nats’ won-loss record matched that of the 1976 Expos, a franchise worst.
Starting pitching was a disaster. Between them, three pitchers who at one point were in the rotation had a combined won-loss record of 1-26 in 42 starts. Paolo Espino, 0-9, just missed setting the all-time record for innings pitched without a win. Rushed to the majors, Joan Adon was 1-12 with a 7.10 ERA. Cory Abbott was 0-5 in nine starts. Four other pitchers each started and lost one game.
No Nationals pitcher threw enough innings to qualify in any positive category. Patrick Corbin (6-19, 6.31), whose back tightness likely kept him from losing 20 games, led the team with 152.2 innings. He and Eric Fedde (6-13, 5.81) were the veterans on a staff with an ERA just a tick under 6.00, the highest in team history. Josiah Gray (7-10, 5.02, the one bright spot because at least he has a future), gave up a league-leading 38 home runs.
No Nationals pitcher threw a shutout. No Nats pitcher completed a nine-inning game. Washington starters went an MLB-record 43 games without recording a win.
The Nationals’ collapse since the 2019 World Series title has been fast and steep, worse even than the 1914-1916 Athletics, who lost several players to the short-lived Federal League and finished those three seasons with a .389 winning percentage. Washington’s 2020, ’21 and ’22 – three years in the cellar — has been .380.
The Nats’ 2022 performance within the N.L. East was hard to fathom: a record-setting-worst 17-59.
Of course, the Nationals made one of the biggest trades at the deadline in recent history, sending superstar Juan Soto and hard-hitting first baseman Josh Bell to San Diego for several top prospects. Surely, some would say, the Nats would have done better keeping their top two hitters. But would they?
Washington was 35-69 (.337) after the last game Soto and Bell played for the Nats. From then on, Washington was 20-38 (.345). In San Diego, meanwhile, both Soto and Bell under-performed.
Bell was hitting .301 when the trade was made. In San Diego, he hit .192.
Soto left D.C. with a .246 average, but an on-base percentage well above .400. He hit just .236 for the Padres and his OBP fell into the .380s out West, barely above .400 for the season.
No one can say for sure if those stats would have been better for Washington, but however well they might have performed, it’s doubtful the Nats could have avoided 100 losses.
Manager Dave Martinez will always be credited with leading Washington to a World Series title in 2019, but he did not win the division that season, nor in 2018 when a team built to make the playoffs did not. His Nats finished tied for last in the Covid-shortened 2020 season and were last with 97 losses in 2021. Every Martinez-managed team has won fewer games than the Pythagorean expectation (based mostly on run scored and runs allowed).
Although GM Mike Rizzo made the decision to strip the roster, the pressure on Martinez should increase next season. Rizzo fired Manny Acta 86 games into what would be the Nationals' second 100-loss season in 2009. New ownership, if a sale is completed, may demand a change.
Washington fans can only hope the tear-down trades made with the Dodgers in 2021 and the Padres in 2022 result in a rebuilt Nationals team that will start winning again, but all that can be done this off-season is to lick their wounds.
Andrew C. Sharp, a retired journalist and a SABR member, has written for the Bio and Games projects and blogs about D.C. baseball at washingtonbaseballhistory.com
Bill James Handbook Hits Home Run Again, Keeps Hot Stove Burning
By Dan Schlossberg
The best companion for the long off-season is The Bill James Handbook 2023. There’s no doubt in my mind.
The external numbers should be convincing: 643 pages for $32.95.
But the internal numbers are even better: pages of player, team, and league records, projections of 2023 performance, and even a computer-generated look at the enormous odds against anyone joining The 300 Club [even you, Justin Verlander].
I absolutely love this book — and marvel at its prompt appearance on Nov. 1, even before the Phillies and Astros finished their six-game World Series.
Published by ACTA Sports in conjunction with Sports Info Solutions, the hefty paperback has no pictures but doesn’t need any. What it does have is irreverent essays by Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, Bobby Scales II, and SABRmetrics guru Bill James, whose byline appears on five of them.
So many overlooked topics are presented in this single volume: predicting injury risk, managerial tendencies, ballpark influences, defensive runs saved, pinch-hitting stats, and even how The Shift impacted wins, losses, and batting averages.
The biggest and best edition of this annual off-season treasure also features fielding stats and awards, strike zone runs saved, RBI percentages, productive vs. unproductive outs, lefty-righty breakdowns, tributes to the late Vin Scully and Bruce Sutter, and so much more it would take the whole winter to study its contents.
There are also tributes to both MVPs, Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt, and an ode to the longevity of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. A piece on baseball overseas — specifically in Asia — is a welcome addition.
Personally speaking, I don’t always agree with the content.
Ranger Suarez over Max Fried as the best-fielding pitcher? There’s a reason Fried has won the Gold Glove three years in a row.
Nine players on the new Hall of Fame ballot worthy of strong consideration? That’s what the Hall of Fame Value Standard created by Bill James for the 2019 edition of The Handbook shows. My choices, if I were voting, would include ballot holdovers Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner but none of the newcomers, including Carlos Beltran.
To be sure, civil debate is a good thing, especially when it comes to baseball. And this book is full of opinions from many different sources, including computers.
Controversy is always good for the game, as it stirs up baseball talk all year long — something other sports would love to emulate.
So go out there and get a copy. See www.actapublications.com and get one to keep and extra copies as holiday gifts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, serving as a valuable reference until the next edition comes out a year from now.
Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ considers The Bill James Handbook his primary baseball reference. He’s covered the game for AP, Latino Sports, forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Memories & Dreams, and other outlets. E.mail Dan via email@example.com.
“When I got the phone call from Jane Forbes Clark, everyone in the room was crying. You’ll never know how happy I was.”
— Tony Oliva, Hall of Fame Class of 2022
Thanks mainly to Marvin Miller, the same Yankee Stadium box seat that cost $4 in 1970 now sells for $265 — an increase of 6,525 per cent . . .
Sandy Koufax is the longest-tenured Hall of Famer in the history of the institution . . .
Bon chance to the 14 holdovers from last year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are getting another lookover from the Baseball Writers Association of America: Bobby Abreu, Mark Buerhle, Todd Helton, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner . . .
Alex Veda Ortiz, 21-year-old daughter of Class of 2022 member David (Big Papi) Ortiz, sang The National Anthem at last year’s induction ceremonies at the Clark Sports Center . . .
Barry Bonds (66 per cent in his final try) and Roger Clemens (65.2 per cent) will get another shot at Cooperstown when the Contemporary Baseball Players Era Committee votes next month at the San Diego Winter Meetings.
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.