Friday, December 30, 2011

Winning The Fan-Market Share

With the Washington Nationals turning their organization around and making great strides in becoming competitive, I began to think about the impact the Nationals could have on the attendance for the Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals are fairly close to contending, and when I say fairly close I mean that they could contend for a wild-card spot this upcoming season. The Baltimore Orioles on the other hand do not appear to be that close to contending at all, but stranger things have happened and O’s fans can hope I guess.

I wondered what the attendance numbers for the Orioles were like once the Nationals came to town in 2005, I also wondered how much of each team’s attendance had to do with the number of games they won (stupid question I know, but still worth looking at).

In 2004, the year before the Nationals came to D.C., the Orioles attendance was at 2.74 million for the entire year. While it has been at a fairly steady downward pace since then, that has far more to do with the performance on the field than it does with the Nationals moving about 40 miles away.

Orioles Attendance
Orioles W-L
Nationals W-L
Nationals Attendance

Not here
14.28 (excl. 2004)
*Nationals Park Opens

As you can see from the chart above, there hasn’t been any major difference in attendance between the two teams with the exception of 2008, when the Nationals new ballpark opened up. The Nationals overall attendance since 2005 figures is roughly 450,000 fans higher than the Orioles’, but that’s primarily because of their new stadium opening up in 2008.

Both teams were rather similar in regards to competitiveness as evidenced by their total wins from the last six seasons.  It makes for a great comparison because it’s not always easy finding two teams who compare so well to one another over the same period of time.

What we want to look out for though is any kind of spike that the Nationals are about to see in attendance, starting in 2012, brought about by the general feeling of their fan base that the team will be competitive. Even if the Nationals don’t make the playoffs, just being competitive or giving the thought of being competitive is enough to gain a boost in attendance.

By how high though, and is it even significant to take into consideration as an owner who’s spending the money?

I researched a few examples in baseball history of a team that has not made the playoffs for at least five consecutive seasons and what the attendance boost was like the year they made the playoffs.

% Difference
+ 349,155
16 %


+ 406,510
15 %


+ 548,475
18 %


Now we know, from the examples given, that the average boost in attendance for a team who hasn’t been to the playoffs in at least five years (like the Nationals) are likely to receive around a 16 % boost in attendance for that year.

What does that mean for the Washington Nationals organization?

Every team operates on a budget of some kind and an uptick in attendance means an uptick in revenues for your organization. A 16 percent increase in attendance from the 2011 season would give the team approximately 2.25 million fans total for next season.  That’s approximately an additional 310,476 fan and the potential to go higher is there since this would be the first playoff season for the Nationals in their short history.

This would also give them more fans than what the Orioles will likely draw (around 1.8 million) in 2012 and could give the Nationals a definitive advantage in attracting more new fans in both markets going forward. The only way that the Orioles could prevent something like this from happening, and losing out on the fan market share, is to become competitive again and remain competitive for years to come.

If the Nationals manage to be the main draw there for the new baseball fans coming up and the generation of fans following after them then the Orioles will be at serious risk of losing parts of their own market, in regards to the total fans it can attract. Something like this would have a certain impact on television and broadcast revenues and the value that each of them has with MASN, their sports network. The Nationals could be in for an even bigger payday if they remain competitive and become the preferred team to watch on the network that Peter Angelos owns the majority share of, MASN.


So the holidays have come and gone, and now we are facing the start of a new year. In our lives it means resolutions that will more than likely only survive until March, tax returns, the threat of snow, and a countdown until Spring Training. The thought for baseball fans is solid, there is hope for a new season, hope that this year your team could win the World Series (unless your an Orioles fan), and that hope starts with the anticipation of Spring Training. For some of us, looking forward to Spring Training means that it will soon start getting warmer, leading to a summer of sun, BBQ, baseball and fun, and that anticipation starts as soon as the New Year comes and goes. It's funny how we live our lives with anticipation of the next benchmark on the calendar, sometimes overlooking the little things we enjoy every day.

All of that aside, and before we start looking ahead to July, it's the time for resolutions. Keeping with the theme of this blog, what is your resolution for the Washington Nationals this year?

For me, I resolve to watch more Nationals games and take more interest in my (almost) next-door neighbors of the baseball variety. Just for fun, I made a list of the resolutions I hope members of the organization would make this year:

Rizzo, GM- To find a starting CF, and add some depth before the season starts.

Strasburg, SP - To take care of his elbow and keep in mind how much strain that delivery and those pitches at that velocity puts on it.

Harper, RF - Not to let quick success go to his head.

Gonzalez, SP - To prove the doubters wrong and she he is one of the top young pitchers in baseball.

Zimmerman, 3B - To carry the leadership role on the team and help the young kids grow and stay out of trouble.

Desmond, SS - To work on base running and steals.

Espinosa, 2B - To work on plate discipline and patience.

Nationals Fans - To actually pay attention while at the games instead of doing work and talking on your cell phone the entire game. You have an exciting core to watch, so either come to cheer them on, or let someone who will take the free tickets you were given.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nationals Acquire Gonzalez

Keith Law had it first.
Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for AJ Cole, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone.

Big cost, but Nats have a 1-2-3 of Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann all under control for at least 4 more years.

I was in the middle of doing my Nats top 10 prospects, but after trading 33% of them in this deal I guess I'm going to have to re-work that now. I will update this later with some more in depth analysis, but looks like a win-win for both clubs. The remaining question is how do they fill that CF void without the trade pieces they just gave up?

The real prize for the A's in this deal is AJ Cole, he is the pick I begged the Orioles to make. The Nationals turned the$2m bonus they paid him into a key piece for boosting their rotation. Let's take a closer look at the pieces the Nationals gave up in this deal:

Brad Peacock: Some see him as the centerpiece of this deal, I don't agree personally, but I can see where some would say that. He's got a plus fastball that sits 94-95, however, there is little movement on it, it's pretty flat. He's also got a knuckle curve that is a plus pitch, think Mike Mussina level, it's a hard power curve, and he will use it both as a chase pitch and a break-over-the-plate pitch. He tends to reach back and overthrow the FB leaving it high, which sometimes results in strikeouts, but could be a risk against ML pitching, and the curve he likes to throw in the dirt when ahead in the count, so I hope the catchers have all their gear on. Brad's change is pretty weak, I'd be stretching if I called it an average pitch right now, but some improvement on that pitch could really take him into all-star starter territory. The problem is without that pitch, he's a two-pitch, power pitcher which screams RP. I think he has the tools to start with a little more refinement, and worst case is you could be looking an elite closer, but I'm on the fence which way he falls.

AJ Cole: This is the guy I think is the key to this deal. Cole sits comfortably around 92 and can dial it up to 94 when he needs to with his FB, it's got good movement, flashing plus at time, mostly running in on RHP and away from LHP. He's also got a slurve that has good differential from the FB, coming in around 78, that's almost a 15mph change of pace. He uses it as a chase pitch when he's ahead, and not so much when he's behind. His change is average, but still in better shape than Peacock's, so with two above-avg. to plus pitches and another average pitch, he's in very good shape at only 20 years old (in 2 weeks). With a long way to go, there is some improvement you could still see, and right now he's a darn good pitcher. This is the guy I could see being better than Gio out of the deal.

Derek Norris: Norris has good power, and plate discipline, he's a walk machine and looks to be a decent catcher with a good arm, but he's always struggled to hit for average, and could face a problem as he moves further up the ladder and sees less and less mistakes from opposing pitchers. It's easy to lay off really bad pitches, it's not as easy to lay off pitches that are right on the edge of the zone. He tends to step towards the baseline instead of the pitcher, which makes him vulnerable on the outside part of the plate. Still, with catchers being so hard to come by, Norris' power and batting eye make him an intriguing prospect. Especially for teams like OAK with such a high value on OBP.

Tom Milone: He was the guy OAK was holding out for, I'm not sure I would let him become a deal breaker in any deal, which is why WAS ultimately gave him up, but that's not to say he won't be a decent player. Milone is a softer tossing LHP with great control, that in itself can be very helpful on a ML staff, and he is ready for the big leagues. I guess OAK wanted him to fill one of the spots in the rotation on the short term. He's got a high 80's FB which is pretty average, but added a cutter this past season which has been pretty successful when used correctly. His curve has good separation from his FB in the mid 70's and great control of this too, but his real bread and butter is his change up. Milone has plus command with almost all of his pitches, and his change looks above average/plus itself. Pitchers with great command are hard to find, and tend to last a long time in this league, but when you are a soft tossing LHP with great control, it makes your pitches always around the plate, and hittable. He looks to be a serviceable starter, but he's going to have to work very hard on spotting his pitches and keeping them out of danger areas.

All in all, it was a lot of potential to give up for a pitcher, but when that pitcher is a LHP SP with proven success at the ML level, and under control for 4 more years, it looks like a win for both sides.

The improvement in the rotation weighs against the hole in CF with the offseason winding down. If WAS were to go out and sign Cespedes on top of getting Gio, there is more talent in the minors, and this team could be gearing up to take the NL East, not just for the next couple years, but for the long term.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nationals in on Gio Gonzalez

Word all day around baseball has been that the Nationals are closing in on a trade with the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez. This would be that home run move that I've been waiting for all offseason. Gio is a young lefty under control for 4 more seasons (like Mat Latos, you might have heard of him, he was just traded for a small country worth of talent). Gio would slot in perfectly in between Strasburg and Zimmermann breaking up the righty duo, and giving the Nats a top 3 that could compete with most in baseball.

With those three at the top of the order, and Wang and Lannan to round out the group, the Nationals should have a rotation built to get to and win in the playoffs.

What would it take to close the deal?

After the Latos trade, you would think half of your farm system, however, I think that trade will be seen as the exception, not the rule, and you'll see a more reasonable return for Gio. Now that return would still be steep as young controllable lefties don't grow on trees, actually now that I mention of it, they don't often grow anywhere, good ones especially are pretty rare. Any conversation will probably start with Detweiller, or Peacock and one of their young catchers. A proposed 4-1 deal was being discussed according to Ken Rosenthal, but no names were for sure. I would have to say, a deal with Detweiller AND Peacock and a young catcher might be enough to get things going. Since Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio would all be under control for at least 4 more years, I'd have to say they can afford to trade that pitching depth.

The Braves are out shopping, looking for OF offense. The Phillies are getting old, but re-signed Rollins this week. The Marlins are making splashes left and right and are looking hungry. The Mets...well, they are just a mess, but the rest of the division isn't going to sit by and just let the Nationals walk by, so it's going to take a couple key moves, and this is a perfect move to make.

Looking At The Starting Rotation

The Washington Nationals have been in the market for an innings-eating type starting pitcher since the offseason began. Today, they’re still looking for that workhorse guy but are also beginning to accept the fact that they may begin the regular season with the same group they finished last season with. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and fifth-starter candidates Ross Detwiler and 2008 10th round pick Tommy Milone.
The biggest issue facing the Nationals with their rotation though is that there isn’t a single starter in that group who can be counted on for 200 or more innings in 2012. The team’s pitching staff as a whole finished the 2011 season 7th in all of baseball with a 3.58 ERA and just 14th in total innings pitched with 1449.1. However, the alarming statistic in that the starting pitchers only accounted for 928.2 innings of that work, which was only good for 28th in all of baseball. The starters’ ERA on the season was 3.80 and they were 24th in baseball with just 79 quality starts.
Stephen Strasburg, the team’s de facto ace, only pitched 24 innings last season after coming back from Tommy John Surgery. The team would be extremely fortunate if they were able to get 150 to 160 innings of work out of him next year, without risking further injury to their superstar.
 Jordan Zimmerman, the team’s obvious number two starter, only pitched 161.1 innings last season and will be two years removed from Tommy John Surgery in 2012. I really don’t see the team pushing Zimmerman past 180 to 185 innings next year, as to avoid higher injury risk for the young star.
“We feel we have in-house candidates for the No. 2 starter behind (Strasburg). Jordan Zimmermann had a terrific year last year, really a breakthrough year for him. We expect bigger and better things—it will be his first full season off of Tommy John surgery—so we’re excited for big things from him. We’re always looking to improve the rotation. You can never have enough good, quality starting pitching in this division, so we’re always in the market for that.”—Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, discussing the team’s starting rotation in a Q-and-A with the team’s website.
John Lannan is likely the team’s number three starter and while he pitched 184.2 innings last year, he walks way too many batters to be counted on for 200 innings. He walked 3.7 batters per nine innings pitched last season and if it wasn’t for the ground balls he was able to induce at a 54.1% rate his ERA wouldn’t have been sitting at a ‘decent’ 3.70 by seasons end.
Their likely number four starter is Chien-Ming Wang and he won’t be coming close to 200 innings either because he only pitched 62.1 innings last year. Wang was certainly effective for most of those innings, especially coming back from almost 2 ½ years of injuries, but the team won’t be pushing him very far either. He will likely finish the season with around 160 to 170 innings of work as long as he stays effective over the course of a full season.
As far as their number five starter goes – well, if it were up to me then I’d choose to throw rookie Tommy Milone in that spot. This guy had a 3.22 ERA in Triple-A Syracuse over 148.1 innings of work and then got called up to the Nationals and posted a 3.81 ERA over 26 innings of work. That’s 174.1 total innings of work for him in 2011, which means that he’s the best candidate to get close to 200 + innings in 2012 if he’s in the rotation.
Every team aspires to land a workhorse starting pitcher in the offseason because let’s face it, every team could use one. And while not landing that guy this offseason certainly doesn’t help the Nationals cause of winning their division, and the World Series, in 2012 – they still have a top ten starting rotation if they aren’t decimated with injuries and three out of the five can get you close to 200 innings.
I would definitely look for the Nationals to become a serious wild-card contender next season, even if the division title is still slightly out of reach.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The importance of good scouting.

So, I started this morning thinking that I was going to do a top 10 prospect list for the Nats, it's not real hard to do they have a very solid top 5-6 that don't take much thought. But something happened to my train of thought on the way to the depot (ha, see what I did there, a play on Camden Depot). The Orioles shook up their scouting department in a big, controversial way and sidetracked me all morning. So I decided I'd write about the impact of good scouting and how that impacts the Nationals.

Building a winning team comes from identifying the right talent at the amateur level, and then supplementing the pieces that don't pan out later on. The more you hit on in the draft, means the less you have to overpay for later. When the Nationals brought in Mike Rizzo, they started a plan in motion that involved an overhaul of the scouting department, and a shift towards spending the money it takes to build through the draft. A couple terrible years on the field translated to a couple of the best draft picks of the past 20 years, and the willingness to pay later in the draft is reaping benefits for a team on the rise.

Recent draft picks of note:

Aaron Crow - We all know how this went. He didn't sign, drafted by KC, has turned into a legit ML closer. However, looking more into things, with the pick the Nats got for not signing him, they drafted Drew Storen who has been a ML closer for more than a year already and for MUCH less money.
Stephen Strasburg - Shouldnt' have to mention this. Slam dunk pick, a superstar in the making, and then picks up a dreaded Tommy John surgery along the way. Seems to have come back strong, and even down a couple MPH he is still better than most of MLB starters.
Drew Storen - See above. Signability pick, has turned into a very capable MLB closer.
Bryce Harper - The SI cover boy himself, amazing power potential and moving through the minors and a very fast clip. Looks to be the future of offense in DC.
Sammy Solis - Solid lefty putting up good stats in the minors and could be a back end starter, solid RP or great trade bait.
AJ Cole - A personal favorite of mine, picked up in the 4th round and is still a work in progress but has start potential. Still a bit of a 2-pitch guy, but if his change-up improves, he could be a really good #2/3 pitcher in DC.
Anthony Rendon - Considered the top talent in the 2011 draft, injury concerns dropped him into the Nationals lap, who wisely gobbled him up. Will start his career as a 3B, but a possible shift to 2B or a trade seems on the horizon with Zimmerman firmly entrenched.
Alex Meyer - Very solid late 1st rounder who was projected in the top 10 most of the year.
Brian Goodwin - Looks like a CF of the future, great tools and very coachable.
Matt Purke - In talks for the top 5 most of the year, injuries dropped him late into 2011, loss of velocity and a disaster small sample in the AFL have people asking questions.
Matt Skole - 3B for Georgia Tech was a sleeper of mine who had a good debut in the NY/P league, someone to keep an eye on.

While this may seem like a solid top 10 list in the making, it's actually just my favorite picks of theirs since 2009. In 3 years, they have infused a HUGE amount of talent into a team and this is the biggest reason why the Nationals are a sleeper pick for many analysts this year.

Still a few pieces away, this list of players gives them plenty of tools to trade for the pieces they need. If they strike out in FA, they can still get in on the trade market and make a big splash and the whole reason they can do that? Scouting and selecting the right players year in and out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is this thing on?

So as Jon previewed the other day, the Winter Meetings were this week in Dallas. For those of you who don't know, it's a giant meeting with Major and Minor league officials, agents, players and MLB staff as far as the eye can see. For those of us who love the offseason, trades, free agent signings and hot-stove speculation, it's like a three day stay in Toys R Us for a kid. The Washington Nationals however, must have missed their invitation, it was very quiet out of the DC camp this year.

Despite rumors that they were in on Fielder, CJ Wilson, and Mark Buehrle, they came up empty. I thought Wilson was a great fit here, getting someone to balance Strasburg, and Zimmermann at the top of the rotation would have been a huge boon for the Nationals. Rumors abounded left and right about a possible trade for a CF, even targeting Adam Jones of the Orioles (which I suggested a few months back in a swap for perhaps Zimmermann, but without signing another frontline SP, that isn't going to happen.)

Now the Nats find them in the same position they were before the meetings, looking for a SP, CF, lead-off hitter and some depth. Talk emerged today about potentially shifting Werth to CF and opening up RF for Harper to start the season, but starting his clock at 19 years old could prove to be very expensive for the team down the road.

There are still a few lesser targets out there that make some sense for the Nats, Oswalt perhaps, who they have been talking to. Cespedes is still out there, and makes some sense here, however his cost has been skyrocketing with more teams getting in the mix, he could be a great gamble for the club though, especially if they don't end up signing any of the top tier FA. Paul Maholm could be a good fit here too, I think he fits better in the NL, and this could be a good home park for him. Two other guys that could make sense for SP depth are Brad Penny and Chris Young.

There are moves out there to be made, and with young talent still developing in the minors, adding without subtracting might be the best course for this season in order to give the young guys more chance to develop and see what they have. With Rendon, Harper, Cole and others getting some seasoning they are positioning themselves to contend for more than just a year or two, they just need to supplement their core with some good role players and veteran pieces and we could be seeing something really special come into play. As DC has shown numerous times recently (yeah I mean you Capitals), if you win, they will come. Once the Nats start winning they will become the trendy thing in town and the attendance and revenue will follow. Before that happens though, they need to start actually making something happen instead of just talking about it. The Angels were becoming the bridesmaids of MLB free agency always in the final talks, but never landing the prize...then they sign Wilson and Pujols within hours of each other. No one is thinking of them as 2nd place in anything anymore.

I hope Rizzo asked Santa for an alarm for Christmas this year, because he needs to wake up and make some things happen before it's too late.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kicking Off the Winter Meetings

Ted Lerner has quite a bit of money, Washington has potentially large streams of revenue, and the team appears willing to prime the pump with premier free agent talent..  The primary obligations of the team are Jayson Werth's potential train wreck of a contract and the solid contract associated with Ryan Zimmerman.  They account for 25 MM this year and 30 MM next year.  The club has a great deal of flexibility in their payroll.

However, with this flexibility the club has been largely saying no to many free agents.  Jose Reyes was not sought after.  Prince Fielder has been placed on the back burner.  Mark Buerhle has also been dropped off the radar.  I am not entirely sure where the Nats are going with this.  The team is likely only a couple moves away from the playoffs and it is not clear how they are expecting to make that movement.  The Braves are stuck in neutral, the Phillies' team is strong but the window is closing, the Mets are coming undone, and the Marlins will need a couple more pieces.  The NL East is ripe for the taking.  The Nationals are in striking distance.

Some of the improvement on the team will come from within.  Several components of the pitching staff should be able to contribute more this year.  Even if Strasburg loses a few mph, he is good enough to provide mid to top rotation value.  Werth is not as base as he was last year.  The team actually has reasonable options everywhere in the field except SS, LF, and CF.  They could also use another starting pitcher.  Those are the areas where they will need to focus their resources.

Yoenis Cespedes has been tied close to the Nationals.  This would be a great fit for them.  He is likely to be at worst serviceable in center field and that is a need.  They would also need to improve upon Bernadina as a backup center fielder in case Cespedes needs time in the minors.  Andruw Jones could be a decent plan B.  Mike Morse might be fine in left with LaRoche going back to 1B healthy.  There simply are no viable ways to improve SS unless they choose to spend big on Jimmy Rollins.  For pitchers, we will see how things shake up.

Let us hope for an interesting Winter Meeting.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2012 Nationals: A brief overview

Being a guy that focuses mostly on the rule 4 draft and prospects, I assumed my first entry would dig right in on that. There is so much to write about that I couldn't decide where to start, with all of the spending in the draft the past couple seasons and the excitement building in DC. Then I took a step back and realized maybe I should write about my personal view on the Nats first, since I am probably the exact demographic the team is looking for. I live about 10 miles from the White House, I have been a major student of the game, have played, and been following the Orioles closely since the early 90's.

Once rumors started flying that an MLB team was thinking about moving to DC and so close to home, you would think you would get excited to have a more true hometown team (Baltimore is 40 miles away). However, I actually cringed at the idea. This is not, and will never be a baseball town. DC is a football city first, and always will be, but it is a sports town, so there will always be some people to show up to games with the tag still on the team t-shirt they are wearing to pretend loyalty for a sport they don't even like. This group of people generally makes up 80% of all attendance for the Nationals right now. If you go to a game, there are more people in the stands in work clothes on their laptops, or their smart phones doing work than watching the game. This comes from a large corporate sponsorship in the DC area with companies that give free tickets to employees. While it puts people in the seats who may or may not actually be watching the game, it creates a very indifferent crowd which usually isn't sure when to cheer or jeer.

The stadium, while built in what us locals referred to a "don't ever go there" area is nice, there isn't a really bad seat in the house and much like New York, famous 3rd party eateries have been brought in to spice things up. Getting to and from can be an adventure because of the lack of parking at the stadium, but the metro that Baltimore lacks helps out with that.

As for the team itself, major strides in the right direction have been made for a couple years now. Young talent has been stockpiled: Strasburg, Harper, Zimmerman, Zimmermann, Rendon, Cole, Bernadina etc. and is beginning to be supplemented with big-name free agents: Werth, and rumors abound about Fielder and Wilson this offseason.

While there has been a stagnation in Baltimore that has gone on for 14 years, the Nationals seem to have gotten the memo and are building excitement. There are players worth buying a ticket to see, and hope that the team can win the division realistically. While I've never personally had any interest in the Nats up til now, my will to support the Orioles is growing weaker each horrible season, and the Nationals seem to know this and are trying to lure me away with promises of exciting players and playing for something after June.

While it is still a work in progress, at least there is real progress, enough to where 2012 or 2013 could be the year the Nationals emerge as a contending force. While a lot of the talk centers around the AL East and the spending that occurs, making it tough for rebuilding teams to ever get a foothold, one could say the same thing about the NL East. The Phillies are one of the top spending teams in baseball right now, with a rotation built to win. The Mets are starting a rebuilding phase, but they are one of the largest market teams in baseball, and will spend the money to get back in the race sooner than later. The Braves always seem to be in the hunt, through player development, even when you think they are going to be terrible they find a way into the wild-card race. Even the Marlins, the major-league feeder team for the rest of the league has a new stadium opening and is showing they want to spend money and get in the race.

I have no animosity towards the Nationals, and as the quality of product improves on the Anacostia, I find myself more and more interested.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Welcome to Our Exile

Exile on the Anacostia is a blog written by writers who primarily write about the Orioles, but will focus on the Washington Nationals here.


Every writer has their reasons.