Sunday, April 4, 2010

Not Buying the Offense

The Nats loaded their bench with some bats that wouldn't make some AAA rosters, let alone a major league one... let's look at the suspects.

C Wil Nieves: No surprise here. He slaps the ball the other way enough to distinguish himself from the pitchers, but isn't a threat to post a wOBA over .300. If he handles the pitchers well, he is not a liability... last season, it didn't seem to matter who caught, pitchers were lit up like the Griswold house. At age 33, if Flores gets healthy, or Coste hits anything, he could see his name in the transactions column, DFA... that would be horrible, as Wil is like the white guy at the end of every NBA bench. Nobody can quantify his value, but character and chemistry translate to a better work environment.

2B/SS Alberto Gonzanlez: With all the moves the Nats made, prepping Desmond, signing Bruntlett and Kennedy, Gonzalez looked to be the odd man out. Even Mike Morse can play most of the infield spots in a pinch. Especially given Kennedy's superior bat and utility presence, the Nats appeared to be heading in a different direction. Gonzalez is still young, but the book on him is pretty straight forward: AAA bat with little patience, lacking the speed to be a threat on the base paths or defense to contribute regularly at shortstop. The Opening Day roster means little for the balance of the season, but at 26, Gonzalez has to hit or field early to stick for more than the first 60 days.

SS/2B Cristian Guzman: It is luxury to have a player of Guzman's skill and experience on the bench. It is penance to sign his paychecks and watch him sulk. He is a better hitter than Gonzalez, and a known commodity to pencil into the lineup. If Desmond struggles, Guzman is likely the difference between 95 and 100 losses. Guzman will likely get regular at bats. It a perfect world, it would be to keep his trade value high. More than likely, it is just a justification for the paycheck... hey look, he's leading the team with a .305 batting average!!... and posting a .304 on base percen... what?

OF Willy Taveras: The ONLY excuse for carrying Taveras is that the management feels the need... The Need for Speed!! While contenders are filling their 25th man spots with the likes of Eric Hinske and Brendan Harris, or highly touted prospect, the Nats are going to kick the tires on twice failed Taveras. In 2005 and 2006, Taveras looked to have some upside, as he was getting on base often enough to utilize his speed. However, Taveras career appears to have been a three year mirage, aided by some ridiculous BABiP numbers (.345, .330, .370). When that number declined in Cincinnati's bandbox, he was a useless as a used tampon in the locker room, despite his defense and speed. Given a fair assessment of hits falling going forward, it is still unlikely he can get on base 30% of the time, making him a useless major league batter.

UTIL Mike Morse: Rizzo's keen eye snatched him from a Mariners' organization rebuilding based on superior defense. The result is a capable bat that can play multiple positions satisfactorily. Basically, most teams would like to have Mike Morse as a 25th man if he has the options to move between levels. Morse should be the platoon answer for Willie Harris in right field. The improvement in plate presence far outweighs any additional value Taveras can provide in right field.

Now what does all this mean? The consensus last season was that the Nats lost 103 games despite a good offense. Truth is, the Nats offense was barely middle of the pack. Every game will feature at least four at bats from Pudge or Wil. Sure, they are the catcher, but aside from Flores little run last April, Nats' catchers have never hit a lick. This will not change this season. Desmond is a mystery at short and SHOULD be better than Guzman, but rookies can turn ugly. Dunn and Willingham are steady sluggers, but are also on the wrong side of thirty and are not going to drastically improve their rate numbers. If anything, they should expect a slight decline. Nyjer Morgan has consistently hit those high BABiP figures, but those could turn into a pumpkin at anytime, just like they did for Willy Taveras. Willie Harris has never been a more than an average major league player with good utility value. Adam Kennedy had a career year in Oakland at age 33; he could have easily been OOB with a sub-replacement level year. The only player in the lineup expected to produce at or above last season's level is Ryan Zimmerman.

That is bleak. The culture change, paying attention to defense, pitching, and character has been refreshing. However, going into the season, one would have hoped that the Nats could have cobbled together more than one replacement level offensive player in case of an injury.

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