Still, With The Strasburg Shutdown

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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.

1989 Caps ‘Goalbusters’ Poster

I was 11 or 12 when this poster became a thing, but I didn’t see it ’til yesterday (via @japersrink):

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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.

Previously: The Early ’90s Redskins ‘Posse’ Poster

ESPN’s ‘Great Analytics Ranking’ Shits All Over The Redskins

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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.”

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17 Reasons I’ve Had It With Randy Wittman

Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.

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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?

So there.

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.

And because I am a narcissist:

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.

Are The Wizards Slumping Or Just Not Very Good?

Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.

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Having lost seven of their last 10 games, things are looking somewhat bleak for the 32-20 Wizards. Most of the losses came against quality teams, adding to the narrative that the Wizards simply can’t hang with top teams, but two losses to the sub-.500 Hornets in four days and a handful of injuries have soured the mood.

The two schools of thought here are: a) The Wizards are simply slumping and will bounce back or b) their early success was a fluke and now they’re regressing back to their norm.

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Making Sense Of The Max Scherzer Deal

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When your team hands out the second largest contract for a pitcher in history, as they did when they signed Max Scherzer to a $210 million deal today, it takes some time to wrap your head around it. Especially when your team already has the best rotation in baseball. And especially especially when what your team desperately needs is more offense.

So, what to make of all this? After consulting Twitter and reading the Internet, here’s my best attempt at figuring it all out.

1) Max Scherzer is Jordan Zimmermann’s replacement

The Nationals knew that Zimmermann only has one more season in Washington. He’s a free agent after this year, and all signs point to him leaving town. Specifically, the two sides being unable to reach a long-term deal before last season, instead settling for a two-year band-aid. So, they signed his replacement a year early to a deal that is likely similar to what ZNN will get on the open market. (And this is to say nothing of the fact that Doug Fister is also a free agent after this season.)

2) Trading Jordan Zimmermann is the ideal scenario

Now that Scherzer has been signed, their best case is to trade Zimmermann and get a bat in return. He’s gone anyway, might as well get something for him. And that sounds great, but that two-year deal he signed is backloaded. The Nats would need to find a trading partner willing to take on the $16.5 million ZNN is owed in 2015 with no guarantee of being able to secure him beyond that.

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Mr. Irrelevant’s Annual D.C. Pro Sports Team Power Rankings

I’m not sure if this is actually an *annual* ranking of the five major D.C. pro sports teams, but it is a nice time of year to do such a thing.

5. Washington Redskins

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As Tom Boswell so kindly points out, the past two Redskins seasons were the franchise’s worst since 1961. Incredible.

But! Short of Dan Snyder selling the team, the best possible thing that could happen just happened: They finally hired a real GM. And a highly regarded one to boot!

Of course, he has a drinking problem, and this is the Redskins. Our enthusiasm is curbed by hopelessness. Continue reading

The Wizards Have Four Healthy Small Forwards

Here with your weekly look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.

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For your first Wizards update of 2015, we’re going to focus on the rotation at small forward now that Martell Webster has rejoined the team. With four players that all primarily play the position and are deserving of significant minutes, Washington has to sort it out.

Paul Pierce (The Starter)

Paul Pierce has been solid in his first season as a Wizard and is likely entrenched as the starter, though if one of the others dramatically steps up his game, he could be moved to the bench. The future Hall of Famer may not take nice to being replaced by one of the ragtag bunch that currently backs him up.

After all, the man won an NBA Championship and the Finals MVP in ’08. Do you think he’d be particularly enthused to be benched in favor of Martell Webster?

Martell Webster (The Newcomer)

Webster offers three-point shooting and athleticism, not to mention a great rapport with Marcin Gortat. He came to Washington with fellow small forward Trevor Ariza before the 2012-13 season and has started 75 games in a Wizards uniform, but he was eventually moved to the sixth man role in favor of Ariza. Ariza of course plays in Houston now, and after a hot start to the season is now struggling mightily. Before Thursday’s game, Ariza shot below 50 percent in 27 consecutive games, so that’s something to feel good about if you’re a Wizards fan.

Otto Porter Jr. (The Youngster)

Otto Porter Jr. was the third overall pick in the 2013 draft and had an incredibly disappointing rookie season, which was immediately derailed by a hip injury that forced him to miss the first 18 games. He never got back on track and his season, along with those of most of the 2013 draft class, was forgettable.

This season, Porter has shown flashes of the star he became at Georgetown, where he led the Hoyas in points, rebounds and steals in 2012-13. He had a career-high 21 points in the Wizards’ home opener back in November, when Pierce got ejected right before halftime. All but two of Porter’s points came in the second half.

He has scored in double-digits seven times this season, and at just 21 years old, his potential is enormous. Also, he makes a badass Ninja Turtle.

Rasual Butler (The Sharpshooter)

Last, but most assuredly not least, is “Casual” Rasual Butler. Butler, the last Wizard to make the roster, bounces around the top of the league in three-point shooting percentage, and he currently sits around 50 percent from deep. His shot selection is often questionable and sometimes preposterous, but for a 35-year-old making less than what Garrett Temple makes, he’s doing alright.

So, What Now?

Pierce isn’t likely to go anywhere, and I’d be surprised if Butler got traded too. Both players are savvy veterans who would likely only be targeted by teams who think they’re one savvy veteran away from a championship. Like the Wizards.

Webster and Porter are the most likely trade candidates, though it’s not as if Washington is dying to get rid of either one. Webster makes the most sense, as he doesn’t really offer anything that the Wizards can’t get from the other three and his contract is excessive at more than $5 million annually.

If Porter has a few more solid games in the coming weeks, he could be shipped out before the Feb. 19 trade deadline. The Wizards might want to capitalize on his value, and if they’re serious about making a run for Kevin Durant in 2016, there won’t be much room (or money) to keep Porter around past his rookie contract.

What Washington could use in return is backcourt help or a rim protector off the bench, but the likeliest scenario is all four remain on the team through the end of the season. It’s a good problem to have.

How Many Decent Players Do The Redskins Actually Have?

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This is an inexact tally, but if you care to see what new Redskins GM/recovering alcoholic/personnel guru/light beer drinker Scot McCloughlan has to work with, carry on.

What we’re trying to determine is how many players on the Redskins roster are legitimate NFL starters. In this case, that means they’re at least in the top half of starters at their position in the league. Meaning, if Robert Griffin III is one of the 16 best QBs, then he’s considered to be decent. If he is not, then he’s not. (Spoiler: He’s not.)

To help us figure this out we asked three national NFL writers for their take on the matter. They are Michael David Smith from Pro Football Talk, Bill Barnwell from Grantland and Will Brinson from CBS Sports. We thank them for their time. Here’s what they said …

1. Trent Williams (LT)

“Above average. I’m not as high on him as some people are — I wouldn’t put him in the Top 5 — but he’s certainly in the Top 16 left tackles in the NFL.” — MDS

Top five in the league at his position. — Barnwell

“Easiest guy on the list to say above average for between his talent and the lack of great offensive linemen.” — Brinson

Verdict: Way above average.

2. DeSean Jackson (WR)

“Way, way above average. Elite talent. Not sure I’ve ever seen a WR just keep making big plays no matter who his QB is the way Jackson does. Eagles would’ve been in the playoffs this year if they’d kept him.” — MDS

Above average, at least. — Barnwell

“Surprisingly good year for DeSean considering their terrible season; there aren’t many wideouts like him in the league.” — Brinson

Verdict: Way above average.

3. Ryan Kerrigan (OLB)

“Above average. Sack numbers are a little inflated by one big game against a terrible Jaguars offense, but he’s a good player.” — MDS

Above average. Not quite top five at his position. — Barnwell

“Definitely above average. Winning on the field.” — Brinson

Verdict: Way above average.

4. Tress Way (P)

“There are better people than me to analyze punters but from my observations I’d say average. Kicks it far but too returnable — looks like he sacrifices hang time for length, which makes it harder on his coverage units. I feel like he has the talent to be above average but a better special teams coach needs to get him more in tune with how to kick a less returnable ball.” — MDS

Average to above average. — Barnwell

“Statistically above average!” — Brinson

Verdict: Above average.

5. Alfred Morris (RB)

“Average. Just looked up his Football Outsiders stats. Almost exactly league average DVOA two years in a row. About right with what my eyes tell me.” — MDS

Average to above average, at least. — Barnwell

“Isn’t versatile or dynamic but he’s underrated and consistent. Had 1,000 yards. The 16th leading rusher in the NFL, Russell Wilson, had 849 yards.” — Brinson

Verdict: Average.

6. Pierre Garcon (WR)

“Average. Was overrated in 2013, caught a lot of passes but didn’t make the most of his opportunities.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

“Someone had to suffer after two dudes with 1,300 yards last year joined forces. Feel like he’s an above average WR2.” — Brinson

Verdict: Average.

7. Jordan Reed (TE)

“Average overall. a little above average as a receiver, a little below average as a blocker.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

“Has the talent to be above average, I think it would be close if you broke down the top 16 tight ends.” — Brinson

Verdict: Average.

8. Kory Lichtensteiger (C)

“Above average. Good run blocker. OK pass blocker.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

“Almost definitely maybe above average.” — Brinson

Verdict: Average.

9. Darrel Young (FB)

“Above average. Fullback is a dying position but with the limited stuff an NFL fullback is asked to do these days, he’s better at it than most.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

Verdict: Average.

10. Keenan Robinson (MLB)

“Average in 2014 but trending in the right direction. If he’s healthy I bet he’ll be an above-average player in 2015.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

Verdict: Slightly below average.

11. Chris Baker (DT)

“Average. One of those big guys you need in the middle but doesn’t make many splash plays.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

Verdict: Slightly below average.

12. Bashaud Breeland (CB)

“Below average. I didn’t see anyone playing even average in the Washington secondary this season.” — MDS

Below average. — Barnwell

Verdict: Below average.

That’s it. Only 12 Redskins players even made it into the conversation. Of those 12, only nine came out average or better. Of those nine, excluding punters, only three were clearly above average at their position and only one plays defense.

Who knows what these numbers look like for a good team, or even an average team. All of which is to say, please join us in welcoming Scot McCloughlan.

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Note: We didn’t include Brian Orakpo here, because his contract is up, and we don’t expect him to return. And didn’t include DeAngelo Hall because, well, we forgot about D-Hall. Sorry, dude.