Monday, August 20, 2012

The 5 best Nationals hitters of all time

It pains me to see the that the Nationals DFA'ed Cesar Izturis over the weekend to activate Ian Desmond from the DL. While Desmond has put together a solid 2012 season, Izturis was much better, putting himself in position to be one of the top 5 Nats hitters of all time. Since Izturis will likely be called up again in September if he clears waivers, his spot on the list isn't cemented, but here is the list through Sunday, 8/19/2012.

1) Travis Hughes: 1.000/1.000/1.000 (1 plate appearance for the 2006 Nats)
On August 20, 2006, the Nationals lost to the Phillies 12-10. If it wasn't for Travis Hughes, the game would have had a much further margin of defeat. The big righty trudged in from the bullpen in the fourth inning with the Nationals already down 10-1. He shut the door in the 4th and pitched a perfect bottom of the 5th as well in the last apperance of his Major League career. The truly amazing thing happened in the top half of the 5th, though, as Hughes hit a first pitch Randy Wolf fastball into RF to move Bernie Castro to 2B; Castro eventually scored on a Felipe Lopez walk, narrowing the Phillies' lead to 10-2 and Hughes left the big leagues as a career 1.000 hitter.

2) Rick Short: .400/.471/.933 (17 plate appearances for the 2005 Nats)
The 32 year old rookie who flirted with .400 in AAA was a fan favorite during the Nationals' first season in DC. He made his short (heh, get it?) ML stint worth it, homering twice and scoring four runs in 17 plate appearances.

3) Cesar Izturis: .500/.500/.750 (5 plate appearances for the 2012-present? Nats)
#Cesar4MVP! While we hardly knew Cesar, he went 2/4 with a double and four runs in his short stint with the Nationals. If Izturis makes it back up in September, he could make it past Short for #2 best Nationals hitter of all time or even drop off the list if he goes into an 0-1 slump.

4) Sean Burnett: .500/.750/.500 (5 plate appearances for the 2009-present Nats)
I've heard many throw out the idea of using Stephen Strasburg as a pinch hitter down the stretch once he is shut down, but the Nats already have a ringer with his cap tilted to the side in the bullpen. Burnett struck out in his only batting apperance for the Nats during the 2009-10 seasons, but has gone 1/1 with a run and two walks in the 2011-12 seasons. Burnett, who went 0/23 hitting in 2004, his rookie season in Pittsburgh, is clearly in the prime of his career with the bat and with a double could easily take Izturis or Short's spots as the #2 or 3 Nationals hitters of all time.

5) Beltran Perez: .500/.571/.500 (7 plate appearances for the 2006 Nats)
Wil Nieves is the token "WHOOOOOO?!?" player of the Nats of the past, but Beltran Perez was a name that made me think for a second. The Dominican righty went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 21 innings for the 2006 Nats, but his real value came with the bat: Perez smacked three singles in six at bats and even threw in a walk to boost his OBP to .571. While Beltran has been out of affiliated baseball since allowing 50 runs in 59 innings for Harrisburg in 2008, he's still only 30 years old and could be an excellent addition for a team looking for a Livan Hernandez type pitcher (one who can throw the ball in the general direction of home plate as well as hold his own from the batters box).

Honorable Mention:
Drew Storen: .500/.500/.500
Alex Escobar: .356/.394/.575
Daryle Ward: .308/.390/.567
Jhonatan Solano: .314/.351/.571
Alfonso Soriano: .277/.351/.560

Monday, August 13, 2012

Christian Garcia: a story of redemption

When Christian Garcia signed with the Nationals last July, the move came with little fanfare. To the naked eye, he was a 25 (almost 26) year old RHP who had spent parts of the last 7 years in the Yankees organization, never rising above AA ball. On top of all of that, he was also recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. He was seen as organizational fodder or a shot in the dark, and as a result threw his 20 and 1/3 innings of 2.66 ERA ball in Auburn and Syracuse with little fanfare (despite having fantastic peripheral stats like a 1.3 BB/9 and 13/3 K/9).

Since I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with the minor leagues, I had an opinion on him when he signed (7/28/2011): "The 2004 3rd round pick by the Yankees was once a promising prospect, but has seen his career shred to pieces by injuries over the years, most recently with his second Tommy John surgery in 2010. At only 25 (26 in August), his baseball life is still relatively young, and if he can stay healthy (which is a huge, ginormous IF), he could still be a solid ML pitcher."

Basically, all Garcia has done since then is get healthy. He was a perennially good pitcher with the Yankees' organization, posting a 3.65 ERA and strong strikeout numbers (albeit with command issues) in his time with their system. From the moment he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2004 and converted from a catcher to a pitcher to today, he's always been a good pitcher when he's been able to throw. Garcia was ranked by Baseball America as the Yankees' #4 prospect after 2004, #8 after 2005, #14 after 2006 (when he had his first Tommy John surgery) and #17 after 2008 (before his second TJ). John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated Garcia as #9 in the Yankees organization with a C+ grade in 2005, #9/C+ in 2006, #9/B- in 2007 and #17/C+in 2009.

Before he tore his elbow up in 2006, Garcia was known as a fastball-curveball pitcher who seemed to be destined for the bullpen due to a lack of a third pitch (even though the other two were plus pitches). His curveball, in fact, was ranked as the best in the Yankees' system by Baseball America after the 2004, 2005 and 2008 seasons. After his first Tommy John surgery, he developed a solid changeup, good enough for Baseball America to note that some Yankees people felt it was their system's best. Garcia predictably lost some velocity after Tommy John surgery, but has recovered to the point that he can hit 97 MPH on the radar gun again with a filthy fastball that has more moves than Matt Hendricks in a shootout. The 2011-12 success Garcia has achieved isn't due to deception or being crafty; he's just a damn good pitcher that is better than the opposition.
Since returning from his second Tommy John and signing with the Nationals organization, Garcia has dominated his opponents. I thought his 2011 stat line was impressive, but he currently has an 0.79 ERA and 16 saves in 45 and 1/3 innings between Harrisburg and Syracuse, posting a 3.0 BB/9 and 12.1 K/9. What's truly amazing is that he has only allowed 22 hits this season (4.4 H/9), including only 9 in 25 and 1/3 innings for Syracuse. Garcia's numbers are borderline unreal this season and he deserves to get the call to the bigs that he's getting next month.

Time can only tell if Garcia will become a solid ML pitcher or not. Don't expect him to be afraid of injuring his elbow again, though. As he told Josh Norris in the article below when asked if he thinks about it happening again, "No, not at all. You can't play like that." That kind of tenacity is always welcome on the big league squad. We'll see if he can push the rest of the staff even harder as they close out the season.
If you're new to Garcia's story, I highly recommend reading the following 2 articles to catch up on it:
Christian Garcia's ready for his third chance (Josh Norris, the Trentonian, 4/27/2012)
Tommy John Times Two: How RHP Christian Garcia is on the Road to Recovery (Kevin Brown, Inside the Chiefs, 9/5/2011)