Big news out of Nats camp is they’ve released utility man Kevin Frandsen (via @ZuckermanCSN). He didn’t hit much in his one season with the Nats (.259/.299/.309 in 220 at-bats), but that doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute in other ways.
Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
Let’s recap the Wizards season so far.
They were really good up until the end of January, going 31-15 through January 27.
Then they were godawful and excruciating to watch not as good the next five weeks, falling to 35-28 in a brutal stretch that included losses to cellar-dwellers such as the 76ers and Timberwolves (back-to-back in fact, by a combined 28 points).
Now, they appear to have regained at least some of their early magic, winning four games in a row by an average of 18 points an sitting at a very respectable 39-28.
So the million dollar question: Are the Wizards good again?
I hesitate to say the Redskins have reverse-engineered their approach to team building, learning from nightmares past, but that does seem to the case under new GM Scot McCloughlan. A recap of their moves through the opening days of free agency:
*Depth D-lineman Ricky Jean-Francois for three years, $9 million ($4M guaranteed)
*Pass-rushing D-lineman Stephen Paea for four years, $21 million ($12.85M guaranteed)
*Run-stuffing 3-4 nose Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton for one year, $4 million guaranteed
*Quality, 26-year-old cornerback Chris Culliver for four years, $32 million ($16M guaranteed)
What they didn’t do: sign Brian Orakpo for four years, $32 million ($13.5M guaranteed). They let Tennessee do that, and there’s no takebacks if Rak tears a pec while signing on the line that is dotted.
So, a new leaf for the Skins? These are sensible deals addressing areas of major concern. Without doing the research, I’d say Washington had one of the worst defensive lines in football last season, as well as one of the worst secondaries. That was fun!
Now they’re improved on both fronts, and they’ve got a full boat of draft picks to use next month. This must be how quality organizations operate.
In an otherwise excellent Grantland piece outlining the Nationals for what they’re projected to be — a 100-win team, which is an increasingly rare creature in MLB — Rany Jazayerli strikes a nerve:
It is widely assumed within the industry that Boras was a driving force behind Rizzo’s worst decision as GM of the Nationals: shutting Strasburg down in September 2012 with the team barreling toward its first playoff berth since moving to Washington. It still makes no sense that the Nationals would jeopardize their postseason chances in order to theoretically protect Strasburg’s long-term health, but such is the cost of keeping Boras placated.
Regardless of Boras’ influence and what you think of Rizzo’s decision, the move made sense then and makes even more now. The facts:
*Strasburg was in his first full post-Tommy John season, and the plan heading in was to limit him to 160 innings.
*When Strasburg hit 160, in early September with the Nats up 6.5 games, he was shut down.
*Buzz bombs went off left and right about how silly the Nats were for this, especially as compared to Atlanta, which was in a similar situation with Kris Medlin. He was used in relief through July before moving to the rotation in August, effectively keeping his innings down.
*The Nats lost in the first round of the playoffs, dropping a heartbreaker to St. Louis. Strasburg’s would’ve-been start was given to Ross Detwiler, who pitched six innings, allowing one unearned run.
*The Cardinals were in that series because they beat the Braves in the Wild Card game. Medlin started and picked up the loss, allowing five unearned runs.
*In the two seasons since 2012, Strasburg has thrown 398 ace-level innings, posting a 3.08 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 433 strikeouts. Medlen was very good in 2013 but required a second Tommy John Surgery in 2014. He’s now attempting a comeback with Kansas City.
So yeah, flags fly forever and all, but the Nats had a plan, they stuck to it, and it’s working out pretty well. This is the same plan, by the way, that they executed to similar effect with fellow ace Jordan Zimmermann.
Rather than risk the future by squeezing a few playoff starts out of Strasburg, they attempted to bolster their fortune for years to come, effectively spreading more bets across the roulette table that is the MLB Playoffs.
That’s the thing with October baseball, you never know. From the same Grantland piece linked above:
Since 1986, 26 teams have won 100 games, but just two of them — the 1998 and 2009 Yankees — won the World Series.
Two out of 26! The Nats won 98 games in 2012 and 96 in 2014, yet didn’t make it out of the first round either year. The Braves made the playoffs 14 times in 15 years but only won it all once. The A’s have made it eight times in 15 years without even winning a series.
The point being, while this year’s Nats are as stacked as a modern team can be, they probably won’t go all the way. The best-case scenario is they win the division and get about a 1-in-8 chance of winning three straight playoff series. That was the best-case scenario in 2012, too.
I was 11 or 12 when this poster became a thing, but I didn’t see it ’til yesterday (via @japersrink):
Based off of the goal totals/puck pyramids, this must’ve been during the offseason of ’89. Dino Ciccarelli, Geoff Courtnall and Mike Ridley would go on to score 106 goals the next season, one that ended with a run to the conference finals.
Twenty-five years later, Ghostbusters III still hasn’t been made, though it is in production for summer 2016.
It’s been an eventful few days for basketball players formerly known as Terps. First, Terrell Stoglin, who led the ACC in scoring three years ago but is now playing in Lebanon, got the worst of this ugly brawl (watch at the 35-second mark):
The Worldwide Leader unveiled a rather cool feature yesterday, The Great Analytics Rankings, sorting all 122 NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams by “the strength of each franchise’s analytics staff, its buy-in from execs and coaches, its investment in biometric data and how much its approach is predicated on analytics.” I don’t know what biometric data is, but this is interesting nonetheless, at least as it pertains to our favorite teams.
We’ll start with the good. The Nats and O’s are both labeled as “believers,” meaning they rank somewhere in the top half among MLB teams. For the O’s, it’s thanks to “GM Dan Duquette, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coordinator Rick Peterson, all of whom are respected for their analytical thinking,” though “they need a more coherent, holistic approach and a stronger investment to compete with division rivals Tampa Bay, Boston and New York.”
Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
In my last post, I wrote the following sentence about the Wizards head coach: “Randy Wittman doesn’t necessarily deserve to keep his job, but firing him would be the wrong move, at least during the season.”
Anybody who knows me personally knows I have never been a fan of Wittman, so I felt somewhat dirty writing that sentence. I’ve been trying to go easier on the guy, as he seemed to be improving slightly, plus the Wizards were playing damn good ball for the first 40 or so games, and it’s rarely a good idea to fire a coach in the middle of a winning season.
No more. I’m done with this guy and his inability to manage a game.
I was at the Jan. 21 game against the Thunder, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook outscored the Wizards 13-11 in overtime en route to a 105-103 OKC victory. Nobody is going to blame Wittman, or the Wizards, for allowing two of the best scorers in the NBA to dominate — that’s just what they do.
Westbrook scored the go-ahead points on this wide-open layup in part due to botched defense, and Bradley Beal shouldered the blame for the loss.
The Wiz still had a chance to tie or win it, and with 0.8 seconds on the clock, Wittman got to draw up a final play. Ideally, the Wizards would look for a lob toward the hoop or a jumper by Bradley Beal or Paul Pierce. After all, the Wizards had already won a game this season by Andre Miller lobbing an inbounds pass to Beal on a fantastic play call.
So would they run a similar play? No. They ended up with this dumpster fire of a play.
I walked out of the Verizon Center that night ranting and raving to anybody who would listen about Wittman’s play-calling inadequacies. Still, I reasoned that the Wizards were playing well overall (29-14 at the time) and, again, I’m not a big fan of firing a coach midseason.
This past Wednesday night’s game against the Raptors, the Wizards’ finale before the All-Star break, not only broke the camel’s back but took a 2×4 to that poor camel’s legs.
With eight full days off before the Wiz play again, I would love to see Wittman replaced, though I know he’s not going anywhere.
Here is a list of some of the ridiculous shit Wittman pulled in a crucial game against one of the top teams in the East, in no particular order:
1. Drew Gooden, whose playing time has been all over the place, played every second of the fourth quarter. He also played the final 2:53 of the third, meaning he played 14 minutes and 53 seconds without coming out of the game. Wittman’s explanation?
2. Marcin Gortat, the team’s starting center in all 54 games this season, didn’t play a second in the fourth. CSN Washington has more on this.
3. Otto Porter Jr., who started in place of an injured Beal, also did not play in the fourth. He was replaced by Garrett Temple at the same time Gooden replaced Gortat in the third, and that was the last we saw of either starter.
4. Temple also played the rest of the game, excluding the final 13 seconds.
5. John Wall played the most minutes of any Wizard, as he often does, with 37. Pierce was next with 30. Then came Gooden, who played just 46 seconds less than Pierce, followed by Temple with 27. Temple and Gooden played more minutes than three healthy starters.
6. Beal missed the final three games before the break. In the first game, Porter started in his stead and had a solid game while the Wizards cruised to a win. The following game, Wittman inexplicably benched Porter for Temple, who received 26 minutes to Porter’s 11, in another Wizards win. But that’s not all, folks! The very next game, the Raptors game in question, Porter was again named the starter but played just 21 minutes.
7. So to recap, and because I still need to convince myself that it actually happened: Wittman sat two of his starters, who were both having decent games, for the final 14:53, and played Gooden and Temple instead. In the final few minutes of a massive game for the Wizards, Garrett Temple and Drew Gooden were on the court. Let that sink in.
8. I will concede that Gooden had a solid game, with 10 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. But he was terrible in the final minutes, he offers virtually no defense and he can’t dominate the paint like Gortat and Nene did in the first three quarters. Plus, Gortat was having a fine game!
9. Through three quarters, the Wizards outscored the Raptors in the paint 40-24; with Gortat sitting and Nene getting less than seven minutes, the Wizards scored just two points in the paint in the final frame.
10. Speaking of the Brazilian big man, Wittman did his best to stop Nene from taking over the game. He was perhaps the best Wizard through three quarters, having knocked down seven of his eight shots for 14 points to go with four boards, three assists and four steals. In the third quarter alone, Nene made all four of his shots, dished out three assists and added two steals. Of course, Nene and Porter were the first guys subbed out in the second half, because Randy Wittman.
11. So after a straight-up dominant nine minutes in the third, Nene got relegated to the bench for the next eight-plus minutes while Kevin Seraphin went 0-for-2 with a single rebound.
12. Even more perplexing was the timing of the substitutions. This is what happened in the minutes before Gooden and Temple replaced Nene and Porter: The Wizards were down by one, went on a 16-5 run to open a 10-point lead, then called a timeout for reasons that escape me still. It was 73-63 when Wittman took the timeout and made the subs. Toronto went on a 12-3 run to close the period, and the Wiz opened the fourth up by just one.
13. After the game, Wittman complained that his players turned it over too many times during that 12-3 run. He also claimed the Raptors took the timeout, though both ESPN.com and NBA.com attribute the timeout to the Wizards.
14. I’m no coach, and it’s silly for fans to say they could do better, but this is just basic game management. Don’t call timeouts and make substitutions when your team has all of the momentum. Coaching is not an easy thing to do, but he didn’t need to coach at that moment. He just needed to stay quiet and let his team continue doing its thing. Maybe certain players needed a breather, but he can’t disrupt the mojo then blame his players.
15. In the fourth quarter, the Wizards went just 7-for-22 from the field, including 5-for-17 by the bench. The Raptors also slumped, shooting just 7-for-16, so the Wizards had a huge opportunity. They blew that opportunity by allowing Gooden to take more shots in the fourth period (six) than the entire starting lineup combined (five).
16. And finally, speaking of huge opportunities, what the hell was that final sequence? A reporter asked Wittman more or less the same question after the game, and he responded that there were numerous options on the play and a long Wall three just so happened to be what materialized.
17. Forget that Wall was 1-for-5 from distance thus far in the game, not even close to the best shooter on the court at the time, and that the Wizards didn’t even need a three. None of that matters to Wittman. Anecdotally speaking, probably 75 percent of the Wizards’ quarter-ending plays are Wall isolations. Wittman and others argue that just because it ends as a Wall iso does not mean it was drawn up that way, but it seems a bit strange that they always seem to end up that way. That’s not Wall’s game and everybody seems to know it’s coming—and I don’t just mean opposing defenses.
I just gazed into my crystal ball. ISO a John Wall jump shot.
Because the Wiz and the Witt shat the bed for the final 15 minutes of the game, Washington dropped from third to fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors completed the season sweep, winning two of the three games by a combined six points (the other was a blowout), and now have a 3.5-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Wizards.
To put a bow on this sloppy rant, I nominate Avery Johnson to replace Wittman. (For what it’s worth, George Karl had been my choice all season, but he’s no longer on the market.) Some may look at his final three seasons as a coach (2010-12 with the Nets) and see a 60-116 record, but I see a guy that won big with a good team and improved a bad team.
Johnson was named Coach of the Year for the 2005-06 season, when he guided the Mavericks to a 60-22 record, then followed it up by leading them to a ridiculous 67-15 record the next year. He also has a career .577 winning percentage, compared to Wittman’s .390, and is far more entertaining and likeable on the bench.
Enjoy the All-Star Game, and who knows, maybe Wittman will steal another coach’s playbook and lead the Wizards to a championship.