Get To Know A Nat 2014: Matt Thornton

407819

 

Name: Matthew J. Thornton (not to be confused with this Matthew Thornton who signed the Declaration of Independence)
Nickname(s): Matt
DOB: September 15, 1976
Twitter?:  None
From: Three Rivers, Michigan
Position:  Reliever
Hand: Lefty

With the Nats Since: August 5, 2014 when the Nationals selected him off waivers from the New York Yankees 

Just Who Is This Guy?: Thornton is a former all-star reliever (2010 All-Star) who has been in the league, mainly the American League, for the last 11 seasons. He’s pitched a total of 655 games, logging a 32-45 record with a 3.48 ERA. Thornton spent the majority of his playing career with the Chicago White Sox but has also played for the Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

During the 2004 season, Thornton made his major league debut at the age of 27 with the Mariners. He threw four innings of scoreless ball, struck out one and gave up three hits and walked one batter. He finished the 2004 season with a 1-2 record and a 4.13 ERA in 32.2 innings.

Thornton was traded to the Chicago White Sox on March 20, 2006 and performed during his tenure with the White Sox. From 2006-2012, he logged 435.1 innings, going 31-32 with a 3.25 ERA, 2.91 FIP and struck out 465 batters. During his All-Star season, Thornton threw 60.2 innings, generating a 5-4 record with a 2.67 ERA, 2.41 FIP and 81 strikeouts. He also had eight saves that season.

According to Brooks Baseball, Thornton heavily uses his fourseam fastball that tops out around 96 mph. He also throws a sinker (96 mph) a lot, and tends to throw a 90 mph change and an 84 mph curveball.

What Happened in 2013: On July 12, 2013, Thornton changed the color, being traded from the White Sox to the Red Sox. In 40 games with the White Sox before the trade, he posted a 3.86 ERA in 28 innings. He struck out 21 and issued 10 walks. With the Red Sox, he appeared in 20 games and struck out nine in 15.1 innings.

While the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, Thornton injured his oblique in August and never fully recovered before the season was over and was left off the postseason rosters.

On November 2, 2013, the Red Sox granted Thornton his release, allowing him to sign with any team. 

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: On January 10, 2014, the Yankees penned Thornton to a two-year, $7 million deal to help bolster their bullpen. However, the Yankees decided that with the emergence of other, cheaper bullpen arms such as Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, mixed with his expensive contract, Thornton was expendable.

Thornton was actually putting together a solid season for the Yankees before the waiver claim, posting a 2.55 ERA in 46 games. He had 20 strikeouts and six walks in 24.2 innings. With the Nationals, he has appeared in three games as of August 13, 2014 and pitched 2.2 innings with a 0.00 ERA and a strikeout.

The addition of Thornton makes one of the best bullpens in baseball even more dominant. He can get batters out on both sides of the plate – right-handed batters have a .255 average against him while lefties have a .254 average against him. Thornton’s experience and veteran leadership will be valuable to the Nationals down the stretch and allow them to give some of their oft-used bullpen arms a much needed break to gear up for the postseason.

Get To Know A Nat 2014: Asdrúbal Cabrera

In an effort to give you the most up-to-date knowledge on the Nationals, here’s a look at one of the newest members of the team, Asdrúbal Cabrera.

Name: Asdrúbal José Cabrera
Nickname(s): Scroobs (Editor Note): Also, apparently, #AssCab…I’m pushing for A.Strudel)
DOB: November 13, 1985
Twitter?:  None
From: Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela
Position: Middle Infielder (primarily played SS with Cleveland but will mainly play 2B with Nats)
Hand: Throws Right, Bats Switch
With the Nats Since: Acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Indians on July 31, 2014 for infielder/outfielder Zach Walters

Just Who Is This Guy?: Cabrera is a former American League All-Star shortstop (in 2011 and 2012) who was acquired via a trade with the Cleveland Indians at the 2014 Trade Deadline. With the Nationals, he will primarily play second base, taking at-bats away from Danny Espinosa, who crushes lefties and plays stellar defensive but has a tendency to strikeout. Cabrera had a down year in 2013 that has carried over this season, but a it’s possible that the change of scenery to the National League, second base and the Nationals could jumpstart his bat and help the Nationals continue their playoff push.

Although he hasn’t played second base since 2009 when he held down the keystone for the Indians in 28 games, he has played flawless defense with the Nationals thus far. In his first game donning the Curly W on August 1, 2014 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Cabrera made a fantastic play while ranging to his left, sliding to field the ball and popping up to throw out the speedy Jimmy Rollins at first. As of August 11, 2014, Cabrera has a perfect fielding percentage in his 74 innings at second base.

During his all-star caliber 2011 and 2012 seasons where he batted .272/.335/.443 with 41 home runs, 160 RBI and stole 26 bases in 294 games, he has batted .243/.302/.392 with 23 home runs, 107 RBI and stolen 16 bases in 241 games since then. His woes continue this season, batting .245/.306/.380 with nine home runs, 43 RBI and seven stolen bases through 105 games with the Indians and Nationals.

Cabrera may be having a down year again this season, but he has the potential to do big things for the Nationals during the playoff race. He brings veteran leadership to the clubhouse as well as postseason experience, having playing during the Indians’ 2007 and 2013 playoff runs. The small things that don’t have any effect on the daily box score are potential reasons why teams bring in a player, such as Cabrera, at the trade deadline.

Let’s get to know Cabrera even further; here are a few fun facts about him. He made his major league debut against the Chicago White Sox, starting at second base and going 0-for-3 with a run scored. On May 12, 2008, Cabrera turned the 14th unassisted triple play in Major League Baseball history against the Toronto Blue Jays. Cabrera hit his first career grand slam against the New York Yankees on April 18, 2009, propelling the Indians 22-4 win. During the 2011 season, Cabrera earned his first and only Silver Slugger for the shortstop position.

What Happened in 2013: Cabrera had a down 2013 to the tune of a .242 batting average with 14 home runs, 66 RBI and nine stolen bases. He had a career high 20.3 percent strikeout rate paired with a 6.2 percent walk rate. Cabrera was worth 0.5 WAR and missed a chunk of the season, spending time on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps.

Defensively, Cabrera committed nine errors in 136 games at shortstop for the Indians, posting a .982 fielding percentage. He was known to make flashy plays at shortstop and so far at second base for the Nationals, he has made a few great plays as well. Look for that to continue.

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: In the final year of his contact, Cabrera hasn’t came close the successes that he had during his 2011-2012 seasons with the Indians. Before he was traded, he was batting .246/.305/.386 with nine home runs, 40 RBI and seven stolen bases. Through 92 games at shortstop with the Indians, Cabrera had committed 14 errors, giving him a .963 fielding percentage, 10 points below the league average of .973 percent.

With the Nationals, Cabrera has a .233/.314/.614 slash line with three RBI and a triple through eight games. Cabrera is a perfect 34-34 in defensive fielding chances. According to the rest of season ZiPS projections on Fangraphs, Cabrera is projected to hit .270 with four home runs, 23 RBI and three stolen bases and provide a 0.8 WAR.

Those projections mixed with his fielding skills and postseason experiences should provide the Nationals with a little extra push towards finishing strong in the second half.

Nats 2014 Mid-Season Review Part II: Mediocre Hitting is Poised to Get Better

At the 81 game mark, I posted a quick half review of the Nationals season thus far. Given the length at which I went on about the pitching and standings, splitting up my other thoughts seemed like a good idea. Plus, at game 81, the Washington Nationals were finally getting a few of their bigger hitters back. Giving them a chance to perform seemed like a good idea.

Here we are at the All-Star break, with the Washington Nationals only having one All-Star voted in, and only one (a different one) sent to the game. No position players were sent, or even remotely considered by the voting populace. Part of that is the Nationals are (still) not a very popular club. Part of that is the Nationals only have a few players with any national profile. Most of that is the fact that All-Stars are not selected on the basis of merits, really.

But some of it is certainly because the Nationals, for whatever else they are know or not know for, are a mediocre hitting team. While they have good hitters, they don’t have a “Big Bopper” so to speak- certainly not one that’s been playing healthy this year. As a team though, whether you want to use Weighted On Base Average, regular Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Weighted Runs Created…The Nats have been in the middle of the pack, at best, offensively. Their bats have not carried the day, at all. Indeed, if not for their being one of the most aggressive (and successful) base running teams in the league, they wouldn’t have even scored the every so slightly above average 4.16 Runs/Game (4.14 is MLB average btw) they have scored.

Continue reading

How Does The #Nats Schedule Affect Their Playoff Chances? via @SCviaDC

Team W L PCT Div
LAD 54 43 0.557 West
MIL 53 43 0.552 Central
WAS 51 42 0.548 East
SF 52 43 0.547 West
ATL 52 43 0.547 East
STL 52 44 0.542 Central
CIN 51 44 0.537 Central
PIT 49 46 0.516 Central

Above is the current mess atop the National League Standings. If the top five teams had actually played an equal number of games during the “first half” of the season, they could all be tied, with the Reds one game back of all of them. The Pirates are only 3 and a half back of the Brewers and are certainly still in contention. The Mets and Marlins are only 6 and a half and 7 games back of the last Wild Card spot, respectively, but I’m ignoring them until they are above .500. This is the definition of a wide open playoff race..

NL EAST

The easiest way for the Nationals to make the playoffs will be to win the NL East title over the Atlanta Braves. Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Braves play three against the Phillies, 4 against the Marlins, and 4 against the Padres. Meanwhile, the Nats will play 3-game series with the Brewers and Reds, sandwiched around a 3-game series with the Rockies. The opposing winning percentage over this period is .449 for the Braves and .503 for the Nats.

After that first week and a half, the tables are turned however. For the 4 week period from July 28th through August 24th, the combined winning percentage of the Braves’ opponents is .535(!). They have 7 games against the Dodgers and 3 against the A’s, the teams leading both leagues, as well as 4 against the Reds, 3 versus the Pirates, 3 against the Nats, and 2 with the Mariners; all teams contending for playoff spots. During that same period, the Nationals will only play 10 games against teams over .500 (for a combined winning % of .484): the make-up game against the O’s, 3 with the Braves, 3 with the Pirates, and 3 against the Giants.

From then on to the end of the season, the Braves will only face +.500 competition for 10 games (6 Nationals and 4 Pirates), for a combined winning percentage of .479. The Nationals will see the Braves, as well as 3 against the Mariners and 3 versus the Dodgers, for a slightly tougher schedule of .493.

So, the thinking for the Braves is likely to be: put as much space as possible between themselves and the Nationals coming out of the break and then hold on tight until the end of August. For the Nats, they need to keep touch for the first week and a half and then capitalize on the weaker competition to build a large cushion in the division. If the race is still really close at the end of August, the division may come down to those last 6 games the two teams play in September, as the rest of the schedule is pretty similar for both.

WILD CARD

Even if they do not win the division, things are still looking good for the Nationals the rest of the way. Of the seven teams listed above, the only team that has fewer games remaining against +.500 opponents than the 28 that the Nationals have is the Giants (23). Excepting the Braves, all of the other teams play more games against plus-.500 opponents than sub-.500 opponents; and the Brewers play almost two-thirds of their remaining games against winning teams.

In short, the 4 NL Central teams that are in the race are going to beat up on each other the rest of the way, and that will keep them all from pulling away from the Nats, Giants, and Braves.

A Trip To Cooperstown, Part 2

This is the second part of my Trip to Cooperstown. Since the first one was a little long, we decided to split it into two posts. The first part can be found here.

Headed down to the second floor, there are two exhibits that are featured. The first one focuses on Abner Doubleday “baseball invented Doubleday” in 1839 and the history behind the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I thought it was really interesting to learn all about Doubleday and even see what the first “ball” that he threw looked like. Obviously, donning my Cubs attire, I had to get a picture taken of a portrait of Mr. Doubleday himself.

Abner DoubleDay Photo

The second exhibit on the second floor focuses on the game of baseball from 1900-present. With that huge array of dates, you can only imagine how much memorabilia and sheer amount of stuff is located within this exhibit. By far the most interesting part of this old time exhibit for me was seeing what the early playing equipment looks like, especially the catchers gear. The makeshift gloves and catchers masks they used. As a catcher growing up and having new age equipment, I have no idea how catchers didn’t die wearing that gear. The sheer expansiveness of this floor is too much for me to even talk about. If you want to know the history of baseball, you must visit this floor and see all the sights. It’s glorious.

Old Eqipment - Google Maps

Saving the best for last, we headed back to the first floor and walked into the shrine filled with the greatest people to ever be a part of the game of baseball. The bronze busts of each National Baseball Hall of Fame member fill the oak walls from top to bottom. There are 306 total people lining these walls, enshrined in this temple of baseball holiness forever. It was a beautiful sight to witness and one that I never will forget. On the back wall, the original class of Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson, are singled out and makes known the start of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The First Class Photo

Finally, the other clever exhibit on the first floor is a small one and somewhat hidden. It features all kinds of memorabilia from baseball films. Being the movie buff that I am, especially with a soft spot for baseball-related movies, I got a kick out of this exhibit. There’s even a list that gives all the names of every baseball movie, which was quite informational – I mean, did you know there are three Sandlot movies? I knew of two, but not the third. There was even a great black and white photo of my brilliant Twitter avatar, (if you don’t follow me, you probably should @hamsterjockey) Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn, made famous in the Major League films.

Overall, my first trip to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was a definite success. It was so much history packed into one visit though, so I feel like I did miss out on some things. However, that just means I will have to go back in a few years. I highly recommend that if you have not been there, visit as soon as you can. If you have visited there previously, I highly suggest that you go back and see the new memorabilia and exhibits.

*Note: the old playing equipment photo is courtesy of Google Maps. You can take a tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame via Google Maps. Technology is awesome.

A Trip to Cooperstown, Part 1

As a diehard baseball fan, I had never made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I’d actually never even been to New York before. How sacrilegious is that? With so much history, tradition and baseball in one place, how had a fan, like myself, never set foot on such sacred grounds.

Well, that all changed the second weekend in June as some friends and I, already having planned to go up to Upstate New York for a long weekend, made a pit stop in Cooperstown to check out the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let’s just say that I was mesmerized by how much baseball tradition is enshrined within the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

When we first arrived there, I noticed just how much baseball was prevalent within the little town of Cooperstown. Baseball themed restaurants and stores line the streets with titles such as the “Triple Play Café,” “Cooperstown Bat Company,” and “Baseballism.” With restaurants and shops featuring names like those, you know that you’re in heaven as a baseball fan.

After parking the car and wandering down Main Street, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of baseball heaven, we finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year and we picked a great weekend to visit. Not only was the ‘Iron Man’ Cal Ripken, Jr. there himself (we unfortunately did not see Cal) for various events throughout the weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame actually was opening a brand new Babe Ruth exhibit on the day we went. Talk about great timing. We also got a commemorative keychain. Hooray keychains!

Once inside, we picked up a map and started to decipher where to go and what to see first. After opting to start on the third floor and work our way down, we entered the “Sacred Ground” exhibit. This exhibit featured quite a bit of information regarding the ballparks, past and current. It also featured a ton of new and old memorabilia, such as the Rally Monkey, which is a plush monkey (actually a real monkey in real life) that made appearances in late-inning situations for the 2002 Anaheim Angels’ World Series-winning team. There were also two seats from Veterans Stadium, the old ballpark that the Philadelphia Phillies called home from 1971-2003. Other relics and knick-knacks featured within this exhibit include old ticket stubs and giveaway items such as pins, bobbleheads, a Rubik’s Cube and ancient programs that were sold for 15 cents.

Rally Monkey

The exhibit changes from ballparks to players, highlighting individual records that each player has accomplished. Records such as Ripen, Jr.’s consecutive games played streak (2,632), most games played in a career (Pete Rose; 3,562), most consecutive seasons leading the league in singles (Ichiro; 10), most saves in a season (Francisco Rodriguez; 62), a broken bat highlighting Mariano Rivera’s 608 career saves and even Eric Gagne’s goggles signifying his 84 consecutive saves streak. Another interesting item that the Baseball Hall of Fame had was the hat that Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood wore during his rookie season where he struck out 20 Houston Astros batters during his fifth career start in the majors. One thing that I forgot about though was Barry Bond’s career home run No. 762 ball. It was in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I completely forgot that the ball was purchased by designer Marc Ecko, who then branded it with an asterisk and donated it back to the Hall. I got a chuckle out of that. Finally, upon exiting this exhibit, they have replicas of each ring that the World Series champion receives. It was interesting seeing how gaudy the rings have gotten over the years. It really is all about the bling.

Kerry Wood Hat

In order to keep this on the shorter side and not be TL;DR, be on the lookout for Part 2 of my trip to Cooperstown.

Get To Know A Nat 2014: Zach Walters

Name: Zachary Butler Walters
Nickname(s): ZeWeezy
DOB: September 5, 1989
Twitter?: @Zwalters02
From: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Position: Infielder/Outfielder
Hand: Bats: Switch / Throws: Right
With the Nats Since: Acquired via trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 30, 2011 for RHP Jason Marquis. 

Just Who Is This Guy?: Zach Walters is one of the Washington Nationals highly touted prospects and is rated No. 10 overall by MLB.com for 2014. He’s a versatile, switch hitter with some pop that can play multiple positions.

In the end, Walters may not be an every day starter, but he definitely is rosterable because of his hit potential and versatility.

What Happened in 2013: Walters made his MLB debut on Sept. 6, 2013 versus the Miami Marlins, going 1-for-1 with a pinch-hit single. Walters’ pinch-hit in the sixth inning broke up Jose Fernandez’s no-hit bid. Pretty clutch if you ask me. He appeared in eight games with the Nationals and had a triple slash line of .375/.444/.625. He scored two runs, had three hits (one of which was a triple), drove in a run and drew a walk. Walters made appearances at shortstop and third base for the Nationals in 2013.

During his time in the minors, Walters honed his skills at Triple-A Syracuse. With the Chiefs, he played in 134 games, with the majority of his games coming at shortstop (104). Walters had a low batting average, .253 but a high slugging percentage, .517 last season in the minors. He had 123 total hits, 32 of which were doubles, five triples and 29 home runs. I repeat, he had 29 home runs last season. He drove in 77 RBI and scored 69 runs. He also struck out a whopping 134 times.

Defensively, woof. He made 31 errors at shortstop and seven errors at third base. At least he had more extra base hits than he did errors!

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: Given all the injuries that the Nationals have had thus far in 2014, Walters actually has had some playing time with the big league club. On April 15, 2014, Walters hit his first big league home run against the Miami Marlins. It was a solo shot in the ninth inning, but he was still able to showcase some of that power. In an assortment of 27 games with the Nationals so far, Walters is batting a mere .182 with three homers, four RBI, five runs and six hits. He’s also walked three times and struck out 14 times. Walters has spent time at third base, shortstop and in left field and has yet to make an error at the big league level.

With Triple-A Syracuse again this season, Walters has appeared in 34 games and has a .288/.331/.629 triple slash line. He has hit 10 home runs, driven in 31 runs and has scored 21 runs so far this season. Walters has 38 total hits, nine of which are doubles and three triples. His strikeout totals are lower (37) and he has taken more walks this season so far (seven total in 2014 through 34 games, 20 total in 2013 through 134 games).

His defensive numbers in the minors have gotten much better, too. He’s only committed seven errors so far (three at second base and four at shortstop). Walters has played in 16 games at second base, two games at third base, 10 games at shortstop and five games in left field. Gotta love that versatility.

My take is that unless there is another injury that happens to the Nationals this season and hopefully there’s not, Walters will spend most of his time in Triple-A working on all aspects of his game. He’ll probably get the call once the minor league season is over and the MLB rosters expand. When he does come up, I hope that he continues to “Let It Go” and asks everyone, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

*Note* All stats are as of June 22.