It’s time for another round of the Nationals mailbag. Interesting questions this week as we all wait to see if baseball will begin this season. If you have a question for a future mailbag, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form here.
Q: If the podcast crew were to recreate the back of a baseball card to be the most informative to fans, would you keep it the same or add /take away some stats?
I feverishly collected baseball cards as a kid. At one point, I had every Harmon Killebrew card from his 22-year career. My parents bought me his then-expensive rookie card one year for Christmas. Why him? I still don’t know. But, there was something magical about the cards and the back of them.
They have changed over the years, much like baseball’s statistical priorities. Slugging percentage and OPS is on the back of Topps 2020 Series 1 cards. Card manufacturers, like reporters, have to balance the information they use because their audience’s statistical knowledge remains broad. Not everyone is staring at Fangraphs eight hours a day.
But, I would put games, at-bats, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS-plus, WAR and WRC+ on the card. At times, it seems we overthink the aforementioned balance between those who would instantly know those acronyms and those who do not. The latter group may be prompted to learn about them if they were displayed instead of sheltered.
Oh, and of course add a stale stick of gum.
Q: Hi Todd — thanks for the great Nationals coverage — I’m sure the lack of baseball is killing you ten times more than it is me, and I’m suffering.
I know it’s become a common refrain that the Nats did baseball a huge favor by pulling out game 7 and preventing the third World Series in a row from having a cloud over it, and I agree. But they also did Joe Torre and MLB a pretty big solid by pulling out game 6, and ensuring that the bizarre call against Trea Turner for running “out of the base path” on the way to first didn’t play a factor in the game/series outcome. Despite the attempts by Torre to provide clarity, there is a clear ambiguity in the rules, and even more so a clear departure from common sense regarding the call against Turner. A right-handed batter should obviously have every right to take the most direct route to first. If that had been a Series-deciding play there would have been an uproar second only to the trash can controversy.
I haven’t seen this addressed since the Series, and I’m really curious — were there ever any discussions at MLB about clarifying the rules regarding the legal path of runners to first base?
Hey, Jason. Thanks for reading. And, yes, we’re all desperate for baseball to come back once everyone is safe.
There has been limited discussion about this. Turner remains baffled by what he should have done. Here’s what he told us when we sat down for the podcast at Nationals Winterfest (which now seems a generation ago) and was asked if it was the wrong call:
“Wrong or right, I don’t know. But, I don’t know what else I was supposed to do. I don’t feel like I veered off into fair territory. I said many times that the batter's box is in fair territory, at least half of it, then the base is also in fair territory. So, if you’re going to run in a straight line, which everybody does, you’re going to be a little bit in fair territory. Me personally, I felt like the pitcher got rewarded for a bad throw. Usually when you make a mistake, it goes against you. Kind of went in their favor. So, it is what it is. We won. I don’t care. If we lost, I’d still be hurt about it.”
And, you’re right to point out the ambiguity in the rule. Here it is:
Rule 5.09(a )(11) Comment (Rule 6.05(k ) Comment): The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-footlane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is per-mitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride,reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.
So, as this pertains to Turner, there is judgment: He was on the fair side of the lane. But, he was also right in front of the base. And, most crucial in my view, his point about the throw is correct. A good throw keeps Yuri Gurriel’s glove in an expected place and clear of Turner. So, obviously there would have been no issue there. So why was Turner penalized for running into a space he, by rule, seemingly has a right to?
It’s a tough call in the moment. It’s also tough to alter the language in the rule. I suppose they could add a caveat about responsibility for the flight path of the ball. Maybe that would help.
Q. What's your advice for watching baseball more intelligently? Aside from listening to the Nats Talk podcast, because I already do that. :) I don't need "Baseball for Dummies", but maybe, like, "Baseball Watching 201". What should I be looking out for? What strategic things could I be noticing? In particular, how can I be a smarter observer of pitching and pitching strategy?
Thanks, and go Nats!
Hey, Katie. Thanks for listening to us dummies on the podcast.
This question immediately makes me think about the times I hear, “There’s nothing going on.” Whenever someone tells me that, I politely tell them they are not looking at the right things, so they don’t realize how much is in fact going on.
Take outfield positioning. Players are armed with cards, but a good center fielder is also moving himself with knowledge developed in-game. For instance, a step or two in either direction can happen because Stephen Strasburg is throwing more changeups than curveballs. And, this particular batter’s swing path typically drives off-speed pitches in a certain direction. Plus, the wind, etc. All this in the end can be a difference between an out and a double.
To the pitchers: They receive the same heat maps we can access on the Internet. So, their path to exploiting a certain spot against hitter X with their particular repertoire is always compelling.
For instance, Freddie Freeman hit .154 against pitches up, in and still a strike last season. But, middle in and down and in? Freeman hit .308 and .419, respectively. Further in, off the plate, Freeman also had trouble (if he swung). Which means Max Scherzer’s cutter would be a crucial pitch for him against Freeman, but only if it’s up or in and off the plate. So, Scherzer has to hit one of three places, and, if he is throwing middle or lower in, he has to cross the danger zones to get there. This is what he is referring to when he talks about “driving” his cutter in. Three inches to the right, Freeman smashes it. Three inches in, it’s a ground out to the short side of the field. And, Freeman knows Scherzer knows Freeman knows this is the case. Freeman also knows Scherzer throws a truckload of strikes. Here’s what he said last year at the All-Star Game:
“If he throws a ball to you, you know he’s setting you up for something else,” Freeman said. “That’s the hardest thing.”
Think about that conceptually: Freeman believes if Scherzer throws him a ball, he is almost exclusively messing with him. But, maybe he just missed his spot for once. Or did he?
This is the epic cat-and-mouse game which comes with repeated, high-end opponents. In this case, Freeman has a hard time. He’s faced Scherzer 45 times and has a .693 OPS. However, he’s faced Strasburg 66 times and has a 1.050 OPS. During, and after, a series, you can see how each pitches to Freeman. Often back-to-back. A guess, without going pitch by pitch, is this could be caused by Strasburg’s two primary off-speed pitches feeding into Freeman’s hot zones -- down or middle and in. He, like Scherzer, could chase the up-and-in hole with a fastball. But without a specific pitch to drive hard under Freeman’s hands, Strasburg has a more difficult time. That’s a guess, and probably just birthed a future blog post.
One other anecdote: The first time Scherzer faced new teammate Starlin Castro this spring during live batting practice, he would not throw him a curveball. Why? Castro hit a 2-2 curveball into the left field stands in the fourth inning, July 7, 2018. It’s his only home run against Scherzer, which Scherzer of course remembers.
So, watch stuff like that. Patterns, location, repeat opponents. And, the reverse is true, too. All those strikes Scherzer throws can cause the hitters to “ambush” him suddenly in the third inning or so, when they start swinging at the first pitch. How does he adjust to that?
I could go on forever here. But, those are some ideas. Hope it helps.
Q: Question about Garcia. Read a nice article about him going over his swing with Soto in spring training. He was also hitting very well to start the spring. What kind of prospect does he project out to be, especially if he improves his bat like he has thus far?
The Nationals are intrigued by Luis Garcia. They like his positional versatility, expect him to get bigger (he’s a 6-foot-2, 190-pound, 19-year-old) and think he has good work habits.
He was in major-league camp for a spell last spring and said he wants to be the next Juan Soto. That doesn’t mean hit at the same level. He was more talking about reaching the major leagues rapidly and staying. As you point out, he was having an excellent offensive spring (1.003 OPS). The good spring came after Garcia spent most of last season improving at the plate while playing for Double-A Harrisburg. He finished August with a .758 OPS, hit three home runs and doubled nine times. That kind of ascension suggests more power could be lurking.
However, if he wants to be like Soto, his plate discipline needs to rise significantly. Garcia struck out 86 times and walked 17 last year. He needs to fix that.
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