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August 31, 2005

Prospectus Today

Blame

by Joe Sheehan

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By now, you're probably familiar with the comments Nationals GM Jim Bowden made Sunday afternoon, after the Nats were shut out by the Cardinals' bullpen, 6-0: Bowden called out his hitters, saying he was "angry, frustrated, disappointed" and saying, "This isn't a problem of one guy or two guys. We have an embarrassing problem of all eight. Zero offense."

There's no nice way to put this, so I guess I'll just say it: Exactly what kind of lineup did Jim Bowden think he'd assembled?

The Nationals looked to have one of the worst offenses in the NL on the day he took the job. They looked to have one of the worst offenses in the NL on Opening Day. When they were playing well, in May and June, they had one of the worst offenses in the NL. And now, in the dog days of August, they have one of the worst offenses in the NL.

Now Jim Bowden wants to get mad? This might be the single best example of blame-shifting we're going to see in 2005, at least for actions taking place in the Western Hemisphere.

The Nationals can't score in large part because Jim Bowden made ridiculous free-agent signings that ensured they wouldn't score. Bowden signed Vinny Castilla (.249/.319/.298) and Cristian Guzman (.194/.235/.273), moves that guaranteed the Nationals a left side of the infield that would make 900 outs. He dragged in wastes of space like Jeffrey Hammonds (.219/.286/.250), Wil Cordero (.118/.161/.157) and Carlos Baerga (.267/.336/.341) to populate a bench that has been a zero for the team.

Bowden traded for Preston Wilson (.265/.355/.455 with the Nationals), a player who wasn't productive in Colorado, in a ridiculous attempt to "solidify" the middle of the lineup. He traded for Junior Spivey (.221/.330/.390), making him about the last person who still thinks Spivey's 2002 might happen again, now that the second baseman is 30 years old and held together by Bubble Yum and children's wishes.

What the Nationals have accomplished this year on offense has been accomplished in spite of Bowden, not because of him. The runs they score they score because the players who came from Montreal, like Nick Johnson, Brian Schneider and Brad Wilkerson, have produced. Even in a down year, Wilkerson's .249/.352/.417 makes him the team's fifth-best hitter.

The only positive contribution Bowden made to this offense is Jose Guillen, who's hitting .301/.348/.520. Guillen has outproduced Juan Rivera (.264/.313/.450) by enough to call that deal a win, although the two players' skill sets remain fairly close, close enough to wonder what Rivera might have done with Guillen's regular playing time.

Let's quantify Bowden's impact on this offense. BP's Caleb Peiffer sat down and divided the Nationals into two groups: players who were with the team when Bowden arrived, and players who weren't. Through Sunday, the Nationals had produced 318.2 runs of VORP in 2005; of that figure, more than 75% (247.9), had been produced by players Bowden inherited.

It gets worse when you look at just the hitters. Bowden's position players have produced 114.2 runs of VORP (barely more than a third of the team total, if you're looking for more evidence of the pitching-heavy nature of their success); of those, his players have produced 16.9, or a shade less than what holdover Ryan Church (17.7) has put up when he's been allowed to play.

Bowden's good moves were the trade for Guillen and the signings of Esteban Loaiza and Hector Carrasco. Everything else he's touched, from the left side of the infield to the bench to the bullpen to the in-season acquisitions, has turned to ash.

For Bowden to call out the players for their "failure" is a bad joke. The Nationals can't score because, lo and behold, Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman suck. Who, other than Bowden, didn't see that one coming? His stamp on this team is lot of money given to bad baseball players. Publicly calling out those players is a shameful attempt to deflect blame from how poorly he did his job over the winter.

You know what else I realized in reviewing the research by Caleb? Omar Minaya is having one hell of a year. Not only is his new team, the Mets, in contention for a playoff spot, but this Nationals team is largely his. Johnson, John Patterson, Livan Hernandez, Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Ryan Church, Gary Majewski…all of these guys are having very good years for the Nats, and all of them were Minaya pickups. Omar Minaya is a hell of a lot more responsible for the success the Nationals are having than Bowden is.

On Sunday, Bowden said, "There's a lot of guys who can score no runs in a game." If there's anyone who knows how to find them, it's Jim Bowden.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  Jim Bowden,  The Who

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