RGIII Is Still Here, You Guys

Griffining Pose

It’s easy to forget, after the devastating knee injury and nightmarish sophomore season, just how valuable Robert Griffin III remains and how brilliant he can be. Here with a reminder, from his annual trade value column, is Grantland’s Bill Barnwell:

15. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington

This is the player with the biggest gap between his ceiling and floor, right? The floor is Griffin suffering another knee injury that would make his issues (both in terms of physical fitness and ability to avoid hits) critical and evaporate his value. The ceiling? I mean, you can make a case that Griffin was the best quarterback in the league on a per-play basis as a rookie. He was fifth in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt and interception percentage, fifth in QBR … and that was with Josh Morgan and Logan Paulsen as two of his starting pass-catchers. He replaces those two in 2014 with DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed. The wild card: new offensive coordinator Sean McVay, infuriatingly just 28 years old. Anything is possible from here.

I added a little emphasis on that bit about his rookie season, because I think people forget, if they even knew to begin with. In a league featuring Manning and Brady and Brees and Rodgers, rookie RGIII may have been the best of the bunch. As an added bonus, the Redskins won the division!

That seems like ancient history. It was a year and a half ago.

Bryce Harper Will Try Anything At This Point

Bryce Harper’s new “stack and jack” batting stance has been working. Since changing to it on July 18, he was 7-for-13 with one of his three home runs of the season coming into last night’s game. But then he decided to add a new wrinkle to it — some sort of batter’s box shuffle.

I have no idea what this is; I have never seen anyone do this.

It didn’t work, and resulted in one of Harper’s three strikeouts in an 0-for-4 day. Still, his production since the break has been promising. Hopefully it continues, because with Zimmerman now out* for the foreseeable future, the Nats desperately need the post-break Bryce, not the .244/.316/.366 pre-break version.

*Related: Yesterday’s game brought back RFK memories, with Hairston, Lobaton, and Espinosa in the starting lineup.

The Summer of Grunfeld

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After a surprising Elite Eight appearance last season, the Wiz are on a bit of a roll. First they re-signed Marcin Gortat, then they landed Paul Pierce, and now they’ve made a series of sensible moves:

*Kris Humphries, PF — 3 years, $13 million (third-year team option)
*DeJuan Blair, PF — 3 years, $6 million (third-year team option)
*Drew Gooden, C — 1 year, $1.5 million (veteran minimum)
*Garrett Temple, G — 2 years, $2 million
*Kevin Seraphin, C — 1 year, $3.8 million

Well, maybe the Seraphin move wasn’t sensible, but the other four shore up the bench nicely, especially in the frontcourt behind Nene and Gortat. Trevor Booker left for $10 million over two years with Utah, but that’s all right. The Wizards got better this week, and they figure to be better next season.

In concert with adding/re-signing the aforementioned and along with expected improvement from Wall and Beal, Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. are looking good in Vegas. It’s just Summer League, but they’re averaging 40 per, and Porter’s development is sorely needed.

The East is also more wide open now. Miami lost LeBron and Indy lost Lance Stephenson, so the top two teams come back to the pack.

Cleveland will emerge with LeBron, and Chicago could be very good with a healthy Derrick Rose. Toronto, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Atlanta figure to return to the playoff mix, but the Wiz have better NBA championship odds than all of them.

So 2014-15 is looking good, and it’s not at the expense of pursuing Kevin Durant in 2016 either. But that’s a long way off. For now, let’s celebrate this summer, and a job well done by Ernie Grunfeld.

Taking Stock of the Nats Coming Out of the Break

Following our first-half Winners & Losers, here’s Bryan Frantz with a look at this Nats’ season so far, and what lies ahead.

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Nats fans should be encouraged by the team’s showing, and Matt Williams has got to be pleased with the team’s 51-42 record. When you consider all of the factors — offensive stagnancy for stretches, so many impact players missing time with injury, Bryce Harper struggling with both of the aforementioned, Ian Desmond spending time atop the leaderboard for fielding errors, Ryan Zimmerman being unable to play the position he’s held for years, a consistent inability to beat the Braves (3-7 so far) — it’s easy to see how the Nationals could be sitting at 42-51 (or worse).

But thanks to a bounce-back year from Adam LaRoche, a breakout season from Anthony Rendon (who’s apparently not a baseball fan), Desmond regaining his fielding acumen and some flat-out dominant pitching, the Nats hold a slim lead for first in the NL East, third in the NL and seventh in MLB.

Let me throw some numbers at you to show how good this team’s pitching has been compared to the rest of MLB:

*lowest ERA
*fewest walks allowed
*second in HRs allowed
*best strikeout/walk ratio

The Nats don’t have any impressive stats to show off when it comes to team batting or fielding, though, unless they’re bragging about how good their record is despite those things.

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Durant-to-D.C. Is Not Completely Irrational

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There are probably better texts regarding Kevin Durant’s free agency in the summer of 2016 and the possibility of him signing with the Wiz, but this is one I happened to read. From a Sports On Earth exchange between Michael Pina and Patrick Hruby, here’s Pina:

Washington has flexibility, especially when you consider the projected salary cap bump to $80 million in 2016. Nene’s contract expires then, and it’s tradable if they need to move it. This team is on a path to incrementally improve from within, while building around the margins. The foundation is set. And from a team-building perspective things aren’t too different from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Washington isn’t as talented, but they successfully used the draft to find their core. I’m not a Grunfeld fan by any means, but the Pierce signing is significant. This team will be attractive in two years, with Beal and Wall hopefully All-Star Weekend regulars by then. If they keep the cap sheet clean enough to offer Durant a max contract, there’s honestly no reason to assume his interest heading East won’t be piqued.

There’s also this, from CSN Washington:

The hiring of David Adkins, who coached Durant in high school, from the University of Maryland’s women’s team as assistant coach to player development for the Wizards this past week isn’t a coincidence.

See? The Wizards will have a decent team, cap space, his old coach … WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT, DURANT? COME HOME!

I’m sure he won’t tire of hearing that for the next two years.

Tyler Clippard Earned It

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The news that the Nats will have an all-star after all, and that that all-star will be Tyler Clippard, is a little puzzling. Basically because Rafael Soriano is the closer, and he has a 0.97 ERA to boot.

Clippard’s ERA (2.03) isn’t quite there, but his other numbers are. He leads the pen in innings (40) and strikeouts (53), and he handles high-leverage eighth-inning situations. Plus, he’s been doing it for years.

This may be his best year, though. His FIP’s never been lower (2.49), and his Ks per nine innings have never been higher (11.9).

It’s Clippard’s second all-star selection. You could say he’s come a long way since Jim Bowden got him for nothing.

Signing Paul Pierce Is Big, If True

The Wizards surprised everyone late Saturday night by signing future HOFer Paul Pierce for two years and $10.2 million. The move is a good one in all sorts of ways, as outlined over at Bullets Forever.

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I’m thrilled about it myself, and much prefer The Truth at two and 10 to Trevor Ariza at eight and 32. Not that Pierce is a better player at this point in his career, but look at what this does for the Wiz:

*Gives them both short-term value and long-term flexibility.
*Helps them to keep spreading the floor. (Pierce is 37% from 3.)
*Gives them a crunch-time option and savvy postseason operator.
*Enables them to develop Otto Porter without really relying on him.

The only downside, aside from Pierce being almost exactly my age, is he can’t defend the perimeter like Ariza. But whatever, it’s not like defense wins championships or anything.

Plus, I think he kinda hates LeBron. Okay by me!

(Image taken with love from The Score, which is very good on Instagram.)

Nats 2014 First-Half Winners & Losers

It’s been some time! Let’s hand out midseason labels …

Jordan Zimmermann

Winners

Jordan Zimmermann — After winning 19 last year he’s clearly been the Nats’ best starter this year, which is not an easy thing to be.

Doug Fister — Even better than he was in Detroit.

Tanner Roark — A crash seems likely, but he’s been fantastic.

Adam LaRoche — My dad says LaRoche can’t hit,* which doesn’t speak highly for the Nats, because ALR leads them in OPS (.863). He’s actually posting a career-best OPS+, too (139). Must be the beard.

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Mr. Irrelevant is a D.C. sports blog covering the Redskins, Nationals, Orioles, Wizards, Capitals, Terrapins and more.