THE Joshua Kusnick Experience #28: OH-Tani

THE Joshua Kusnick Experience #28 is available for download and we have an extremely baseball-centric conversation.

Our conversation begins with a discussion about fantasy baseball and how it has impacted the way fans enjoy the game.  Next we talk about how the specialization of bullpens has had the side effect of eliminating mid-priced veteran bench hitters, plus we talk about how to optimize major league rosters while stating obvious hurdles to the process.  Then Josh brings up a fantastic argument against a world wide baseball draft, a negative to eliminating a draft and going to a bonus pool, and describes interacting with former client Lorenzo Cain for the first time in years.  Finally Josh gives his thoughts again on Jeremy Jeffress’s contract, are radar guns juiced, and we fan-boy over Shohei Ohtani.

Thanks to Josh for sharing his time and to you for downloading!

Zimmerman Deserves Criticism For Team’s Early Struggles

In a rather quiet spring training for the Nationals, one of the biggest storylines for the team leaving West Palm Beach was the unique decision by Ryan Zimmerman to play only in one spring training game.  Zimmerman instead preferred to get his work accomplished on the back fields, in games consisting of predominantly minor leaguers.  Certainly the fans that traveled to watch the team were disappointed to miss the “Face of the Franchise”, but also left themselves questioning the wisdom of this decision.

Ryan Zimmerman believes spring training is too long and there is merit to this, as the multiple weeks are more important to stretch out starting pitchers than getting hitters prepared for the opposing pitchers.  And Zimmerman has struggled with injuries the past several years, except in 2017, when he was one of the top first baseman in baseball, so he felt that playing in a more relaxed environment would be more conducive to staying healthy.

Unfortunately through the first 13 games of the season, this experiment looks like a bigger bust than Homer Simpson’s “The Homer”, as Zimmerman is batting .103/.186/.231 with 11 strikeouts in 39 at-bats.  He appears to be out of rhythm at the plate, avoiding fastballs in the strike zone and swinging at breaking pitches in the dirt. Furthermore, he has looked shaky defensively at first base, failing to make a couple plays in the field, and has not looked spy on the bases.

His struggles thus far have had a large effect on the team’s lack of offensive production, as he is the cleanup hitter and lineup protection behind Bryce Harper.  Washington has scored 2 runs or fewer in 6 of the team’s first 13 games, and Harper is currently tied for most walks in the National League with 16.  Opposing teams are choosing to pitch around Harper, who is hitting .286/.467/.714 with 6 home runs, and taking their chances with Zimmerman.

Which goes back to his decision to essentially avoid facing major league quality pitching all spring in order to protect himself from injury.  Manager Davey Martinez is new to the organization and a first-time manager, so he is in a difficult position to challenge Zimmerman on this unusual decision in February or move him down in the order before May 1st.

If I can digress a moment – A few years ago I was at a minor league game watching a big league player on a rehab assignment, and I was sitting next to an experienced scout.  I asked him his thoughts on the value of these rehab games for established major leaguers and he responded “good for their confidence but how can you prepare for big league stuff against guys in A-ball?”

This leads back to my point – While I do not believe this slump will have a large effect on his overall production in 2018, Zimmerman’s decision to avoid spring training games is perhaps the biggest reason Washington is currently 6-7 and in 4th place in the division.  Without question, it is early, but Washington will continue to struggle offensively until Zimmerman rounds into form or is dropped in the batting order.

*Originally published at MASNSports.com on 4/13/18

Matt Grace is DC Baseball’s Best Kept Secret

Recently an entertainer in World Wrestling Entertainment named Buddy Murphy began calling himself “Professional Wrestling’s Best Kept Secret” – with all due respect to his creative catchphrase, I believe we should start calling Washington Nationals’ reliever Matt Grace “D.C. Baseball’s Best Kept Secret”.

Last season Grace was quietly effective for the Nationals, producing a 4.32 ERA, 1.360 WHIP and 31 strikeouts against 18 walks over 50 innings pitched.  An 8th round pick by Washington in the 2010 MLB Draft from UCLA, Grace steadily rose through Washington’s minor league system before reaching the majors in 2015.  The 29-year-old Grace does a solid job minimizing home runs and inducing ground balls, with a career 61.1% ground ball ratio.  Grace is especially effective against left-handed hitters, allowing a meager .232/.315/.235 batting line in 2017.

In addition, Grace brings a unique element to the Nationals’ relief corps, notably his ability to throw multiple innings, as he threw 2 or more innings 8 separate times in 2017.  Grace does not overwhelm with his pure stuff, as his sinking fastball sits around 91mph and he has a good, but not great slider; however he locates his pitches well and has some natural deception in his delivery to disrupt opposing hitters’ rhythm.

Now the 2018 season has arrived and Washington has a new, forward-thinking manager Dave Martinez at the helm.  And certainly there is little question that Washington’s “A bullpen” consists of Brandon Kintzler in the 7th, Ryan Madson in the 8th and Sean Doolittle serving as the closer to finish games.  However, the inconsistency of fellow left-handed relievers Enny Romero and Sammy Solis leaves an obvious void in Washington’s bullpen for a left-handed relief specialist.  Furthermore, the composition of Washington’s current bullpen lacks anyone experienced pitching multiple innings on a consistent basis.   Already this season we have seen Martinez use Grace in four of the team’s first six games, both in a multi-inning role to finish a game and in the middle innings to combat a tough left-handed hitter.

The National League East is filled with many top left-handed batters, namely Freddie Freeman, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto – Matt Grace should see plenty of opportunities this summer to try and neutralize these talented lefties.  Also, Washington’s lack of a solid #5 starter and the absence of a true long-reliever should also give Grace multiple opportunities to pitch this season.  Therefore, the team’s bullpen will be counting on Grace’s ability to both neutralize quality left-handed hitters and occasionally pitch multiple innings in 2018.

Much like a Swiss Army Knife, you do not realize how valuable Matt Grace’s versatility is until you need him and Washington will be counting on him as a vital component of their relief corps this season.  Now, is there any chance we can convince him to enter each game to a loud “shushing” sound?

*Originally published at MASNSports.com on 4/6/18*

THE Joshua Kusnick Experience #27 – Todd Frazier Seems Nice!

Episode #27 of THE Joshua Kusnick Experience has published and we find Josh in San Diego for Opening Day 2018.

Our conversation begins with Josh discussing his terrific opening day experience watching client Carlos Asuaje start a 9th inning rally and client Jeremy Jeffress get the win in the same game.  Next Josh shares some road stories from opening week, talks Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marlins Man, plus we analyze the Todd Frazier “Super Fan”.  Finally, Josh schools me on video games and Carlos Asuaje owning an e-sports organization.  Thanks for listening!