Monday, November 21, 2011

If CF doesn't lead off, who does?

US Presswire photo
Ian Desmond's OBP was .298, but it jumped to .342 after he started leading off.
With news over the weekend that the Indians are close to re-signing Grady Sizemore, the field of available center fielders is about to shrink by one. Not that the Nationals were going hard after Sizemore, but the 29-year-old did look like a possible fit for a club that is seeking a center fielder who ideally can lead off.

But the key word there is "ideally." General manager Mike Rizzo has stated his preference is kill two birds with one stone, but his 2012 center fielder doesn't have to also hit leadoff. Certainly, B.J. Upton -- whose name has been mentioned plenty as a possible Rizzo target -- doesn't fit the profile of a classic leadoff hitter.

So the question then becomes: If the center fielder doesn't bat atop the Nationals' lineup, who else might?

Scanning their projected starting lineup, there aren't a whole lot of attractive options. Danny Espinosa did lead off some last season, but the rookie second baseman was dreadful up there, and his power and run-producing ability was wasted in that spot. Jayson Werth, the Nationals' best regular at getting on base, also led off a bit but never looked comfortable in that role. And again, he's not being paid $126 million to lead off. He's being $126 million to hopefully drive in some runs.

Ryan Zimmerman? Michael Morse? Adam LaRoche? Wilson Ramos? No. No. No. And no way.

Which leaves only one other possible choice: Ian Desmond.

At first glance, it looks like a terrible idea. Desmond has some positive qualities as a major-league hitter. Getting on base at a productive rate is not one of them. This is a guy who posted a .308 on-base percentage as a rookie, then saw that number drop to .298 this year (sixth-worst among all qualifying National League batters).

But dig a little deeper, and perhaps it's not so outrageous. Desmond actually became a much more productive offensive player this season when he hit at the top of the Nationals' lineup. In 50 total games leading off, he hit .281 with a .318 OBP and a .412 slugging percentage.

Now, those are hardly spectacular numbers for a No. 1 hitter, but remember, those numbers include the season's first two weeks when Desmond was leading off and was flat-out awful (he reached base in only 11 of his first 52 plate appearances).

If you look only at Desmond's numbers when leading off during the season's final six weeks, they actually look pretty solid. Davey Johnson put his shortstop back in the top spot on Aug. 17 and left him there for his final 39 starts of the year. He wound up hitting .305 with a .342 OBP and .437 slugging percentage.

Again, not blow-you-out-of-the-water numbers, but pretty solid. And certainly much better than the Nationals got out of their leadoff hitters the rest of the season (the club's collective .285 OBP from its leadoff batters was far and away the worst mark in the majors).

If the Nationals want to go with Desmond in the top spot, he's still going to have to work on his plate discipline, cut down on his strikeout rate (way too high at 21.8 percent) and improve his walk rate (way too low at 5.5 percent).

But if Rizzo can't land a classic, leadoff-hitting center fielder and needs someone else to hold down the No. 1 spot in his 2012 lineup, Desmond probably is the best choice on the current roster.


JayB said...

Bad, Bad Bad Idea......Nats must move past these type of unproven, wishful thinking, hope and a prayer type off season moves....They must get a high OBP proven lead off hitter. Yes it is hard and yes it will cost.....but the days of hoping someone will work out should be long gone. The window has opened for the first time on a playoff run. Nook Logan, B Watson, L Millidge.....the list goes on and on for these types of mistakes....just get do what is needed to be done please.

Joe Seamhead said...

I don't see any FA's out there that fit the bill. Davey has stated that he can live with Desmond leading off, but none of us see it as ideal. Also, if the Phillies don't resign Jimmy Rollins, they're also in the market for a prototype lead-off guy. I haven't seen too many Ricky Henderson types available. Sizemore hasn't been healthy enough with his knees the past couple of years to be an ideal candidate anyway. Reyes comes with too many issues. I don't what hat people want Mike Rizzo to pull a lead off CF out of! Maybe from a hat made in Japan?

gonatsgo said...

Rizzo just may have no choice in the matter - this may be the only option. You are all not wrong about Desmond, but he seems to be highly motivated and also seems to listen to the coaching staff. He really worked on his defensive play last year and improved, doesn't have a ton of major league experience yet. Maybe he can work his way to "solid" and that will have to do for now. One thing that I have seen is that our players do not seem to get enough time in a position to really work it out - panic ensues when they don't perform well enough and they are yanked ( Bernadina?). I think it actually takes several entire seasons for a player to mature into a role. Kind of like expecting Morse to be a great outfielder after a couple of partial seasons there. He did"just fine" or even better at 1b, but you just can't expect the same performance as someone who has been doing it for years.

joemktg said...

We've been yapping about this since pre-ST last year, and it'd be insane to repeat the same action this ST: let's see who will win the job. This is not going to be solved from within anytime soon, and will continue to be a systemic issue until help is brought in from the outside. One of two things: (1) trade/sign for a leadoff CF, or (2) trade/series of trades which brings in a leadoff hitter who plays MI (and in the process, mixes up the apple cart).

Corner OF positions are set (Morse/Harper and Werth), leaving the MI as the available defensive area to find a leadoff hitter. Sorry Danny and/or Ian: no leadoff CF, and you're at risk.

sjm308 said...

Whooo Hooo!

Baseball talk at 7 in the morning!

I was originally in the tank for Reyes but have figured out that is a lot of money for someone who has not had a full year in over 3 years.
I have never been a fan of Upton and he would not lead off anyway.
We seem to have two camps here in NIland. One that is content to wait until 2013 and another that wants to see us in the playoffs in 2012. There is a small island that feels like Rizzo should be gone if we are not a contender right now and I disagree with that but I find it hard to think we will start slowly even if we don't add another piece.
We will have actually added SS, & CMW to our starting rotation so that is a plus. Ramos is now our full-time catcher so that is a plus. Morse has to be coming in with more confidence than ever before. Zimm is healthy, JZimmnn has a full year in, Werth now knows what he is dealing with in a new town and IF LaRoche can get back to his usual numbers we really are solid.
Sooo, I am not getting my pants all bunched up about the leadoff hitter. I would like to see a really good defensive CF'r but I can see that is going to be difficult. Can't wait to see what Rizzo does because I do believe he will do something.

Go Nats

Mutch said...

GONATSGO hit right on the head. Furthermore I still say too much is put into it. The guy hitting in the number one spot leads off an inning once maybe if you lucky twice in a game. In the national league with the pitcher hitting ninth you also need a guy that can drive that number eight hitter home. You can't put aguy in the spot for thirty games and expect him to be a Jimmy Rollins.

Natslifer said...

SJM - Woo hoo indeed - I'm with you!

Great comments already and before anyone starts with the "find someone or you're fired!" approach, the rule for the day should be that you have to actually name a real person to be the CF/SS leadoff person in your post. I for one have to agree that there's no one out there that's a great fit either contract or capability-wise.

Reyes seems like the only real alternative but what a risk it would be to add all that money to our team chemistry if he ends up not being healthy again.

NatStat said...

Yes Mark, those last 39 games for Desi may be the best predictors. Let's give it a shot, starting in ST.

If Davey believes, I believe. He told Desmond that he'd have to walk and get on base more. And he did during just that during that 39 game run.

Desmond is also motivated as gonatsgo has suggested, and also has an offensive-minded manager that has his back and wants him to do well leading off.

A CF leading off, yeah that's fine. But who's out there that will put up the numbers and can be had. Certainly, no one that did significantly better than Desi during those last 39 games.

Gooooooooooooooooooo Nats!!!!

Gonat said...

This has been a problem since mid-2010 when we saw Nyjer Morgan couldn't be the every day lead-off for reasons we have discussed before.

When Rizzo sent Nyjer packing days before the 2011 season started, the lead-off cost the team.

I have to say that Desmond late in the season under Davey's direction did an admirable job at lead-off.

Long-term though it would seem that a proto-typical leadoff CF made sense. Outside of Coco Crisp in Free Agency, the field is small.

Joe Seamhead said...

sjm308, I'm not technically in either of the camps that you mentioned. I believe that when you combine all of the points that you made regarding the returning pieces, along with the fact that the Phillies, in spite of their great pitchers, are aging so fast, we will be in the playoffs in 2012 with the team that we have. We might not get too far, but we're going to the dance next year.I'm telling you folks, Philly is in trouble unless they make some pretty big moves. Yes, I realize that they had the most wins last year, but Ibanez, Utley, Polanco, are all ready for Baseball's Leisure World. Brian Schnieder is their back-up catcher. Jim Thome is their PH/DH, Ryan Howard may never be the same, and they just traded for Ty Wigginton. J Rollins wants a long term contract, which he may, or may not get. They didn't win the season series against the Nats this year, and they will have a harder time next year with the pitching we have.
As to the lead off problem, sometimes I worry more about how many times that we left small villages in scoring position last year. I'm praying for LaRoche to return to his career numbers, and for Werth to be more productive. I'd like to see more run production from the CF position, either way.
However it all unfolds, I think that 2012 will be the most entertaining season for us since the return of baseball to DC.GYFNG! And thanks, Mark, for the great job that you do!

Sue Dinem said...

There is an in-house candidate in the person of Steve Lombardozzi, but handing him the 2B job and shifting Espinosa to his natural defensive position begs the following question: Will the defensive upgrade at SS offset the potential drop in offense and speed? And then the follow-up: Which is the real Danny Espinosa -- the first-half phenom or the second-half tailspin?

JamesFan said...

More important than a leadoff hitter for the Nats next year is the requirement to cut down on strikeouts. The team does not put the ball in play enough.

Second priority is to get a solid, quality starter like Buehrle;

Third, retain a quality bullpen;

Fourth, find/obtain a leadoff hitter (team options are Desmond and Lombo);

Fifth, strengthen the bench;

five, an everyday centerfielder.

Anonymous said...

Some suggestion that with Mike Trout, the Angels might be willing to part with Peter Bourjos for some good pitching. Boujous is the fast, OBP, excellent fielding lead-off type we are looking for. And he's mid 20s.

Another blog (don't remember which) suggested Detwiler, Peacock and Bernadina for Boujos, which seeams way too expensive. But if we could pry that guy away from LAA it might be worth some pitching... and Bernadina.

blovy8 said...

I like the Lombardozzi idea, but it'll take a real shakeup in their philosophy to give him the 2B job and move Espinosa to SS and Desmond off the club. I would imagine Werth in center and him in right before that if he really looked solid as a leadoff guy in spring training. If they do find a reasonable center fielder though, I suppose that Desmond as a leadoff hitter can show the next batter a lot of pitches by striking out 150 times, but it won't add up to the .340+ obp that's needed in that spot. But if Desmond's power starts leading to a few more homers, maybe teams will start to walk him more. In any case he might be the only starter who WANTS to do it. It's probably better to have the batters in spots where they can succeed, than tinkering around according to their batting profiles.

DFL said...

Ian Desmond will lead-off unless Coco Crisp is signed as a centerfielder(unlikely as he wishes to play on the West Coast) or Desmond is traded and Lombardozzi is slotted for lead-off.

There is a great mythology surrounding the importance of hitting lead-off. A lead-off hitter leads off only once a game as a guarantee. Although there have been lead-off hitters of greatness- Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Maury Wills, Earle Combs- most lead-offs are rather mediocre. Teams have won championships without great lead-offs. Bobby Richardson of the great Yankee teams of the Mantle Era had a career batting average of .266 and a career OBP of .299. He never walked more than 37 times or stole more than 15 bases. Bert Campaneris of the Jackson-Hunter Oakland A's had a career average of .259 and an OBP of .311. He did steal a lot of bases but led the league in caught stealing on a number of occasions. Mickey Rivers of the Jackson-Munson Yankee teams hit for a .295 career average and an OBP of .327. He never walked more than 43 times in a season and only had three seasons of over 30 steals and only one of those with the Yankees.

Baseball is largely won by pitching, defense and power hitting. The Nats can win with Ian Desmond as lead-off.

BinM said...

DFL, you have a point that true standout leadoff hitters are few & far between. What the Nationals need to find are 'tablesetters' at the top of the order; That is, players with the ability to get on-base with 0-1 out & extend the inning to the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup.

NatinBeantown said...

I'm with NatsLifer. We know what we have in Desmond, and he's at his best batting 1 or 2, but pretend for a moment that the leadoff is coming from outside. Who will it be? Rizzo has dropped a ton of comments that it's mostly likely to come by trade. But who?

I'm with blovey8: other than Austin Jackson, Bourjos would be my first choice. And it's probably safe to say that Jackson will not be available. Who else would come at a price worth paying? Adam Jones?

Or do you sit tight and throw a truck of money to Ellsbury for 2013?

Paul said...

Lombo is the way to go here. Desmond has had more than his fair share of time at the big league level to show us what he is, and that just isn't that good--it certainly is not significantly better than replacement level.

The problem with Desmond is that he just looks so good on a big league field. He carries himself like a big leaguer and just looks like he belongs in all of his actions. But just because somebody looks the part, doesn't mean they can produce.

Give Lombardozzi a shot and trade Desmond while he still has some value in a weak SS FA market.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will said...

There is a lot of confusion about why the lead off spot is so important. The biggest reason that lead off is of such great importance is that the leadoff hitter gets the most at bats.

Why on earth would you put your worst batter (Desmond) in a spot that gives him substantially more chances to fail?

Last year, the Nats lead off hitter got 17 more plate appearances than 2nd hitter, who got 15 more PA than #3, who got 18 more PA than #4, who got 23 more PA than #5, and so on.

By using Desmond as a lead off, rather than a #7 or 8 hitter, you're giving him 115-130 more plate appearances than a better hitter! Desmond is the worst offensive starter on the Nats. Every metric supports this in both 2010 and 2011. Yes, you can cherry pick statistics to support your argument, as Mark and others here have, but the bigger picture proves that Ian Desmond is a bad to very bad batter. Using him in a position that gives him more chances to demonstrate what some of us already can see is counter-productive.

Until Rizzo can sign/trade for a better player, Jayson Werth should be the lead off batter. He has good on base skills and some speed, and would be very effective at "setting the table" for Zimm, Morse, LaRoche, Ramos and Espinosa to drive him in.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

We've all heard the arithmetic arguments for having the best hitter bat leadoff, but has that logic been tested for a season or more, on the field? Just asking, I have no idea.

Nattydread said...

Agree with JamesFan on strike outs.

The Nats low offensive productivity and league-leading strikeout propensity are closely linked.

Increasing at-bat output and reducing K's must be a higher priority than buying/trading for a lead-off batter (especially when there aren't many out there).

Jeeves said...

Coincidently, I'd just, this morning, been defending Desmond on National's Prospects. Did the number crunching, converted the stats to 550 at bats. I eliminated three months of Ian's thirteen months in the majors (both Junes and May of this year.) Then his stats (representing 80 percent of his major league career) looked like this. 278 BA, 64R's, 64RBI's, 31 doubles, 5 triples, 12 home runs, and 18 stolen bases. His OBA, still poor, was approximately 320, although over the last three months this year, it was close to 330. Those stats would be above average for MLB shortstops.
This doesn't mean I think Ian is the answer as a lead off hitter, but he's certainly heading in the right direction.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Those stats would be above average for MLB shortstops.
What about if you selectively removed the worst parts of other MLB shortstops' games?

Will said...

Jeeves, you can distort the statistics to make any player look like Albert Pujols by taking away their worst periods of play.

The fact of the matter is Ian Desmond was really bad for long stretches. He's now had 2 full seasons, and 1300 plate appearances. His wOBA is a paltry .304, his career OBP is merely .304, and his SLG is barely .387. None of that indicates he is or ever will be a good batter.

Anonymous said...

This has been a problem since 2005 when the franchise arrived and Nyjer Morgan is the closest thing to a good leadoff man that we have had, but he was not a good baserunner so his getting on 1st base did not matter. I can live with Desmond leading off, although he is too aggressive, Eckstein needs to make him be more patient, even if it means giving him the take sign on pitch number one everytime he gets to the plate! I wish there was a good solution out there but I think we would give away too much to get a legit leadoff man for 2011, especially when all the GMs know how bad Rizzo wants one!

Eugene in Oregon said...

Last year, the four NL teams that made the playoffs averaged 4.70, 4.51, 4.45, and 4.40 runs per game. (The team that averaged 4.40 also had the best pitching staff in MLB, by the way.)

The NL average scoring was 4.13 runs/game.

The Nats averaged 3.88.

To get to league average scoring, the Nats need to add about 45 runs. But league average -- even with the expanded playoffs -- probably isn't enough to make the Wild Card. To get to 4.35 runs/game, for example, they need to add about 81 runs; to get to 4.40, they need to add about 88 runs. Even adding 100 runs scored would only get them into the middle of that 2011 playoff pack at 4.47 runs/game.

Getting a 'classic' or 'prototypical' lead-off hitter is one option for trying to add those runs. But it's not the only option.

As a couple of posters have correctly pointed out, you can also score runs and win baseball games without a 'classic' lead-off hitter. The Cardinals -- the playoff team that averaged 4.70 runs/game and led the NL league in scoring -- had lead-off splits of .254/.310/.351 for the year.

I am much less concerned about whether the Nats acquire a traditional lead-off hitter and much more interested in whether they acquire another 'good' hitter or two. Maybe the new guy bats lead-off (whether or not he's in the 'classic' mode), maybe not. But the Nats need to make sure that any new OF can generate some runs, however he does it.

And, equally if not more importantly, they need for their returning regulars (Werth, LaRoche, Espinosa) to improve their plate discipline (increase OBP, reduce strike outs). Because the Nats' problems last season extended well beyond poor lead-off hitting. By almost any measure, the Nats hit poorly pretty much across the entire line-up (with a few praiseworthy exceptions, e.g. Morse, Ramos).

Unkyd said...

Morning, all! Glad to see a lot of faith, here, in My Boy Desi. I've never claimed he is The Answer, to any questions... only that he has enough upside to continue to try to prove himself. He certainly hasn't PROVEN he can't bat effectively at leaf off, and absent a better, proven option, I am fine with him leading off, for the first half if '12. Can't explain it... I just feel good about him :)


Unkyd said...

And, of course...when the other young bats improve, and last years veteran underperformers return to mean... I JUST FREAKING CAN'T WAIT!!!!

FS said...

Our best lead-off hitter of our young history was Soriano. I know he was out of place but he did bat lead-off and did great.

Anyways, there is no lead-off hitter on the market available that can improve Nats offense by 100 runs, not even Reyes. I am fine with trying our luck with Desmond if we can find a good CF that is not a lead-off.

DFL said...

Lead-off hitters are rarely the best hitters on the team or the men with the greatest OBP. For instance, Skip Schumacker of the World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals is rather non-descript. He hit .283, had a decent .333 OBP and stole ZERO bases. However, it would have made no sense to bat Berkman, Holliday or Pujols at lead-off although they are much better hitters.

Pete Rose was a rare lead-off who was a giant of a hitter yet Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and later George Foster were more important hitters for the Reds. And for every Pete Rose there's a Don Kessinger, Bud Harrelson, Skip Schumaker, Bill North, Al Bumbry or Ian Desmond.

Jeeves said...

And obviously Will, you distorted the point I was trying to make. And yes Sec3, I'm, duh, aware of that. Ian Desmond has not been in the majors very long and the fact is that for 80 percent of his major league career, he has been quite respectable offensively. He shouldn't be relegated to the 'very poor offensive player category' that some of you feel he belongs.
Often players in their first couple of years go through rough patches. Just ask Jason Heyward. And before you jump on me for that comment--no, I'm not comparing the two player's offensive potential.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating discussion...

Looking at this differently, if you DO believe that a prototypical leadoff guy is important (and I would say important but not necessarily mission-critical), consider this...

Let's say for argument's sake that Rendon and Harper turn into the sort of MLB hitters that they are projected to become. Once they get to the majors, we have (defensive lineup, not batting order here):

C Ramos
1B Morse
2B Rendon
3B Zimmerman
SS Espinosa or Desmond (compete, boys)
Corner OF: Werth / Harper

If you are following along at home, the only place remaining in which a leadoff hitter can play is CF. Unless Desmond does morph into a higher OBP guy.

I haven't read anything about Rendon's potential as a leadoff guy---has anyone else? (To me, from what I've read, he seems like a classic 2 hole hitter.)

John C. said...

If (and it's a pretty big if, because I think there are trade talks going on) the Nationals don't pick up a high OBP type hitter to bat leadoff then I think that Desmond is likely to start the season at leadoff.

That said, I do think that if Lombardozzi has a halfway decent spring training then he starts the season with the Nationals and will be in the wings if Desmond or Espinosa falters.

bgib said...

It seems to me that they should try to find out if Lombardozzi can play the outfield, especially if they are so intent on keeping Desmond in the lineup.

DFL said...

Let me nominate a few reasons why the Nats run production was weak last season other than having a less than sterling lead-off hitter. One, clean-up hitter Adam LaRoche's season was ruined due to injury. Two, All-Star and third hitter Ryan Zimmerman missed two months. Three, fifth hitter Jayson Werth had a miserable season at the bat. Four, Michael Morse did not play regularly until LaRoche went down. Five, Ramos virtually split the catcher position with the weak-hitting Rodriguez until some time in May. Improve on these problems and Nats' run production will increase.

Theophilus said...

I've said before that Skip Schumaker should be an affordable place-holder for CF and probably LO until the Nats develop someone of their own, or someone really worthwhile is available as a FA.

Bourjos is no better as a hitter and he can't be that great in CF if, as rumored, the Angels are thinking about Trout there.

Tne Nats' LO situation last year was largely a reflection of Riggleman's desperation to win as many games as possible. The Opening Day Desmond experiment lasted about 15 games. The Espinosa experiment lasted about 20 games. Then there was the Werth experiment, the Ankiel experiment and the Bernadina experiment. About the only person who didn't get a shot was Pudge.

At the end of the year, we should have realized that the reason the April Desmond experiment didn't work was that he just wasn't hitting, period, no matter where he was in the lineup. August and September, he gets his bat straightened out and does just fine as a leadoff man.

Now, if a guy gets 140 BB a year (Eddie Yost), or gets 175 hits, steals 40-50 bases, goes 1st to third on every other ball put in play (Al Bumbry) he's a great leadoff hitter. There's no one model for a great leadoff guy. But don't give me Soriano as a great leadoff hitter, PLEASE. For every game he led off w/ a HR, he started four w/ a strikeout.

And a team could have a lead off guy who -- according to the criteria of many on this list -- is absolute crXX. DFL is exactly right; the Bobby Richardson Yankees did pretty daXX good.

Anonymous said...

It would be nutso for the Nats to go into 2012 thinking Desmond is a real option as a lead-off man. Last resort, maybe. But they should not be thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios at this point.

Zuck can cherry-pick some stats from this or that portion of the season all he wants (if you take out the first two weeks when Desmond was terrible, but leave in the two weeks in September where he was very good, then you get . . .), Ian Desmond, but for the nice speed, has not business hitting First for any MLB club. He does not draw walks, does not hit for average and he swings and misses a LOT.

At this point he's a back of the lineup player, as much as everyone wants the guy to be great, the numbers do not lie. Desmond's body of work is what he is. In 2009 he looked like a real comer, a building-block guy, but that was his only season of dominating at any level (and most of it was in the minors), before or since, he really has not had a season where he hit for high average or with power or for a shiny OBP.

I am OK with the club giving Desmond time to figure it out (he has a load of talent and he has shown he can put it together in spurts), but not as he's batting lead-off in the Bigs. Some wobbly-based hope that he can handle the job is not enough for them to install the guy in the role.


NatStat said...


You are totally correctomundo sir. I predict that Nats' run production will increase by some 30% in '12

Anonymous said...

You know, Zuck is right on the roster -- if not Demsond, then who at lead-off? Which means that Rizzo pretty much has to make a move somehow to get someone for the role. Maybe a CF, maybe a LF with Werth to CF (if they think he can handle it) and Morse to RF, maybe move Ian in trade and give Espi SS with Lombo at 2B (and leading-off), etc., whatever. Come up with something that gives the club a shot. The guy with the 6th worst OBP in the NL is not the answer as your lead-off hitter.


Eugene in Oregon said...

Regarding Soriano, he led off the game 131 times with the Nats in 2006. In that role, he hit .281, with a .336 OBP, and a .587 SLG average. He hit nine lead-off-the-game HRs, and struck out 27 times (so he struck out three times for each HR he hit as game lead-off). He only drew seven walks, but also hit 10 doubles and ended up scoring 28 runs from that spot. I would take that Soriano (the 2006 version) as a lead-off hitter in a heartbeat. Overall, he scored 119 runs and drove in 95. That's what a meant above when I said I don't care if we get a 'classic' lead-off guy or not; the Nats need better hitters.

Wally said...

A good leadoff hitter has value, but I wouldn't go to extreme lengths to find one. I mostly agree with what Eugene said @ 10:11 about needing more good hitters, not necessarily a lead off hitter. As for Desi, the way I see it, it goes back to our philosophy for next season: if we want to be a higher probability playoff contender, then, in addition to (a) a new CF and (b) what DFL said @11:13, one of the MI positions needs to be upgraded. It would probably have more of an impact on 2012 than another SP.

Desi (and Espy) MAY turn into quality batters, but I wouldn't say it is likely that BOTH do. Desi has had two similar years of mediocre performance, below replacement level 1st halves with strong 2d halves that make us think he can be the batter that a selective look at his stats implies. But I don't see it; I think that he is what his overall averages suggest. I also don't think that his placement in the order varies his production. If he batted leadoff the whole first half, I don't think that he would have had substantially better results. I think that it looks different because the shift to leadoff coincided with (not caused) a 2d half surge.

But I don't see the Nats getting a big time MI, primarily because of Rendon. Rizzo won't say it, but I highly doubt that they do anything that blocks him, and I think that Rizzo assumes that he'll get Zim extended and is slotting Rendon at 2B, at least until it is proven not to work. So giving Desi and Espy another year to see what we have is ok, but then the CF upgrade needs to be sizable to (potentially) cover both those spots in the lineup. They may trade Desi if a great deal came along, but they would plug in Lombo at 2b, and slide Espy to SS, to get through 2012 in my view.

Back to CF: I like Theo's idea of trading for Schumaker if the primary CF targets fail (although I don't agree with the comments about Bourjos' defense: by all reports, he and Trout profile in the top 5 in baseball in CF, and Trout has a much better bat). Schumaker is a good bat and has some OF experience. My guess is that he would be a slightly below average defensive CF with a better than average bat (at least a better than average CF bat), which is a better stopgap than what we currently have. He also should come cheap. This would be 4th or 5th on my CF list, though.

Anonymous8 said...

Lombo at this point is that "unproven" idea that you do when you are a 60 or 65 win team. The Nats have to go with proven commodities or put their faith in Desmond as the starter at leadoff. This cost the 2011 Nats team starting the 2011 season without a leadoff set.

NatinBeantown said...

I agree that you can't cherrypick or alter stats to make your point, but this subset of Desmond's batting has merit, in my opinion:

In 98 games (670 PA) batting in the 1st or 2nd slot, Desmond is very nearly a .283/.318/.403 hitter. In the leadoff slot alone, he's .278/.318/.405. Those are career splits, so they include all the slumps, slow starts, and hot streaks. League average leadoff hitter in the NL was .269/.331/.401 last year.

So, first, aside from the low BB totals, Desmond is not too far off from a reasonable leadoff hitter. I do think that hitting in the top of the order is good for him, both for seeing good pitches, and because he's so clearly a "confidence" hitter.

Desmond was told to focus entirely on his defense last year and he cut his errors by a third. Having conquered that demon, it's not unreasonable to think he could be given a challenge to be more selective in 2012, and get very close to a league average leadoff stats. That, continueing the error trend, plus range, and being a clubhouse leader should count for more than it does around here.

MicheleS said...

Boz in today's chat.. CF = Upton via Free Agency, no trade, so Desi is probably leading off..

NatinBeantown said...

"Continuing". Spelling should count for more, too.

Anonymous said...

Comment on Boz's chat.. the Deadskins are really bad, when the majority of your questions are aboutthe Nats/Caps/Golf (more about Nats than all others

David said...

Agree to give Lombo a shot. Career OBP .369 in the minors vs Desmond .326 in the minors. Better chance that Lombo does it in the majors over Desmond.

Will said...

Just to throw it out there- between April and July, Ian Desmond has batted .240/.279/.351 through 675 AB, 742 PA, 10 HR, 72 RBI.

That's slightly more than a full season of ABs.

First half/second half arguments aside, do you really want to use the player with the worst OBP on your team in the lead off position?

Anonymous said...

There is an in-house candidate in the person of Steve Lombardozzi, but handing him the 2B job and shifting Espinosa to his natural defensive position begs the following question:

Sue has it pegged Mark. With Lombardozzi as another option leading off you have some options now don't you? I do agree with Sue's inference. That Desmond likely gets traded. Unfortunately, I fear Morse may be a part of any bargain Rizzo makes as well ... and Flores and some pitching.

Is it worth it to get Peter Borjous? How high will they go to get Upton? And they still need a starting pitcher. Grienke might be a possibility given the Brewer's shortages. But it looks like Oswalt given what it will cost to get that CF. In the end I'm not sure its worth the price.

Anonymous said...

And by the way: Lombardozzi won a minor league gold glove this year I believe.

The Great Unwashed said...

To answer Mark’s question, it doesn’t matter to me whether the Nats get a CF who hits leadoff, they just need better production from both the one and two holes. Period. Not every team’s CF hits leadoff anyway (Jimmy Rollins, for example).

As far as the leadoff spot goes, there seems to be a misconception about what a leadoff hitter really is. It’s not that they only lead off once a game, it’s what *type* of player they are. A good leadoff hitter produces an OBP of around .380 - .400. It doesn’t matter how they get on. It just matters that they get on base. Most of them don’t hit for power anyway. If I’m the opposing pitcher and I’ve started the inning with the #8 hitter and he gets on, and then so does the pitcher, now the pressure is really on me because I’m facing a high-OBP guy who further sets the table for the power hitters. This is not to mention that they have the potential to be up at bat five times per game, as opposed to the #5 and below hitters who average four at bats per game. That’s the value of the leadoff hitter. Saying that he only leads off once a game is missing the point, and in that area the Nats are sorely lacking. If the one and two holes are solidified, given that Zim and Morse follow, the rest of the line-up will fall into place and the Nats will have a pretty good offense in my opinion.

I don’t know if Desmond is the answer at leadoff, but he’s all they’ve got right now. Werth is not. I repeat, Werth is not. Remember, Werth hit leadoff for a while last year and didn’t produce either. If he had, he would’ve stayed there. Werth had too many called third strikes and strikeouts overall to hit leadoff.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know if Desmond is the answer at leadoff, but he’s all they’ve got right now.

Again, there is Lombardozzi. And to followup on your point, Rendon had the highest OBP of college players. Right now he looks slated for first base or second base. And those are other reasons why its not important for the CF to lead off. Rizzo is certainly not going to block Rendon. And Fangraphs projects Brian Goodwin into a corner outfield slot not CF. Perez may end up there as well. All they really have is Corey Brown, Curran and Michael Taylor may pan out in the future but has a ways to go.

And so it makes far more sense to pick a CF to be a CF first and leadoff guy second.

Anonymous said...

Lombo at this point is that "unproven" idea that you do when you are a 60 or 65 win team.

This isn't the Yankees. This organization wants to build from within. Rizzo isn't going to change that philosophy because you think its an unproven idea. Both Rizzo and even more Johnson!!!! Have said they prefer working with what they have within the organization. And any trade will be passed by Johnson's nose for odor monitoring.

Anonymous said...

Again you have at least two guys with super OBP's who could ostensibly bat second taking the pressure off of leadoff:

Derrick Norris (who is faster than you think).
Anthony Rendon.

Are you going to block them?

The Great Unwashed said...

Yes, they've got Lombardozzi as an option. But I agree with Anonymous8 that the Nats need to go with proven commodities at this point if they plan on contunuing the team's improvement. Like it or not, Desmond is a proven commodity (your mileage may vary). I'm not advocating for Desmond by the way, I'm just being realistic. The nats are where they are at leadoff barring a trade or signing a free agent.

Sure, have Lombo compete during Spring Training and if he knocks your socks off give him a shot. But the Nats need a Plan B as well, and Desi is at worst your Plan B. Werth, Espinosa, Ankiel, Bernadina, and Desmond all led off last year. And you winner (by a nose) was Desmond. Not reassuring, but realistic.

You can make an argument that Lombo wasn't played that much during his cup of coffee last September, but to me, he wasn't that impressive. And he's unproven at leadoff. I don't care what he did in the minors. I care what he does when he gets to the show.

Anonymous said...

An unproven Lombo (who has at least shown ability to hit and get on in the minors) might be better than Desmond, the guy who was proven himself not able to get on, no?

Anyway, I am thinking Rendon might be playing 3B for this club someday not that far away as Zimmerman's throwing problems may not be behind him. A whole lot of guys have made the move from 3B over to 1B (Pujols and Youkilis, for example). Who knows.


Anonymous said...

The Nats can solve all their problems, in house. Lead off Lombardozzi and play him at 2B, Move Esponisa to SS and make a CF out of Desmond. He has the arm and range to to play CF.

Anonymous said...

Rizzo & Davey get paid to do this and they know more than the lot of us put together.

Theophilus said...

Who has been listening to whom about Lombardozzi?

The Nats organization has never pegged Lombardozzi as an everyday ML player; every source outside the organization slots him as a utility guy. Consensus is that he doesn't have the arm to play anywhere in the infield except second. (Which for so many of the people on this list has been extrapolated into a rationale for getting rid of Desmond.)

I agree he looks like a bona fide, useful ML utility infielder, even one you could live with if a regular went down for an extended time. Great low-cost improvement over Alex Cora. But for what we saw of him last September he looked really over-matched. No-power guys like him shouldn't be flailing at stuff outside of the strike zone.

I'm with Unwashed on this one.

Unkyd said...


Derrick Norris (who is faster than you think).
Pretty much already blocked, no?
dfh21..... Nothing proven yet, re: Desi, as far as I'm cconcerned. And, is that the Mackey Sasser chorus, warming up in the background? I don't think that was you, last year, but it was one if the most amusing negative rants of '11...

Theophilus said...

I agree w/ trying Desmond in CF. Think Bobby Murcer.

Anonymous said...

Lombardozzi didn't get much of a chance in September. It's hard to play once in a while and adjust to ML pitching, playing once every three or four days. Make Lombo a punch and Judy hitter (for those of you who don't know that's a Nellie Fox type.) Choke him up and spray the ball around. There still is a place in baseball for this type of player. Lombo will make contact and is a good glove, also.

Eugene in Oregon said...

Anon @ 1:27 - You're right, of course, but 'this' is what the Hot Stove League is all about.

Anon @ 1:22 - If you mean that "the Nats can solve their problem, in house" in the long-term (maybe even the medium term), you might be right. But not in the short term and certainly not next season. To stand pat is to stay in 3rd place (or drop down the standings).

The WashPost report that Rizzo is traveling to Buerhle's home today is quite telling. It suggests that the Nats goal is to quickly rap up a free-agent starting pitcher, which then allows them to trade -- from a position of certitude and some strength -- for an additional bat. That bat will probably be a center fielder and maybe a lead-off hitter, but those kinds of specifics are fungible. That's the smart way to approach it, given the respective FA markets for SPs and OFs. With a starter pitcher signed, the Nats will know that they can include one of Lannan, Detwiller, Peacock, or Milone as part of two- or three-player package to get that additional bat.

DFL said...

I know of no insider source personally within the Nats organization who maintains that Lobardozzi will only be a utilityman but it would seem that it would be premature to regard Lombardozzi, age 23, as such a limited player. He has risen quickly through the organization and has been both a model of consistency and a player who has improved to a degree at every level. His Batting Average has fluctuated from .283 in Rookie League to .310, usually hovering around .300 at every level. His On Base Percentage has fluctuated from .354 to .375. His stolen base totals have improved from 4 to 16 to 24 to 30 in four years. And he has added some home run pop, typical of teenagers still filling out and learning the craft of hitting.

As an Orioles fan as well as a Nats fan, I'd love to have Lombardozzi playing second and batting lead-off up in Charm City. Sadly, there's little up in Baltimore that Washington would want(Adam Jones, Zach Britton perhaps) in a trade.

baseballswami said...

There is nothing mystical about a lead-off hitter. Almost every player on the roster will find himself leading off at some point or other - just like they will find themselves at bat with someone on base. All hitting is situational - the batter needs to know what is going on in the game and whether or not the priority is to get on,by any means possible, move a runner over, or get a runner in. Our hitters have not always had a good plan at the plate that reflects the situation of the game. All hitters should also know how to bunt and sacrifice a runner in from third. They get paid tons of money to play a game - is this too much to ask? And I certainly agree with some previous posters that our team whiffs much too much. You never know what might happen if the ball goes into play. I think if every player on the roster stepped up his hitting game a tick then we would score more runs over a season - I don't see the answer coming from just one place.

Anonymous8 said...

I am laughing. This says Buehrle is 1st choice and Oswalt is Plan B. As suspected, the info Ladson was given a week ago on Oswalt was probably not the correct info.

JamesFan said...

The team is going to be very young, so jumping to the Lombo option seems to me to be a little dangerous. Would rather have an experienced leadoff guy.

phil dunn said...

This need for a decent lead-off center fielder goes back to the spring of 2005 when the Nationals gave Endy Chavez the heave-ho. That's nearly seven years to fix a glaring problem and two general managers have not been able to do it. That's pathetic.

gonatsgo said...

I still think you can't just plop someone in lead off and expect them to perform well - every role in baseball takes time to learn. The team will need to commit to someone and let them work it out instead of pulling them right away when it doesn't go perfectly. I think we have had people there who probably could have done well had they been given enough time to get used to it. Our team is young and everyone is still learning - it takes time.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

if you judge a player off 1 month of major league playing time, Mike Morse would have never happened for us. Lombo has hit at EVERY level in the pro's. he'll probably figure out major league pitchers quickly too, if he starts almost every day.

sjm308 said...

This has been one of the finest sets of comments I have read here in over a year of reading. Lots and lots of good points made and not a single rant or name calling! Nice job people.

Agree with so many points
1. we need to score more runs
2. we need to strike out less
3. lead-off is not that critical if we accomplish # 1 & 2
4. I also like the idea of trying Desmond in CF if we don't aquire anyone but can he be ready by the end of spring training with that experiment?
I have 5-10 but won't bore you all

Go nats!!

Anonymous8 said...

sjm, you still need a minimum of a .320 OBP guy to leadoff. You have to give Zim, Morse and LaRoche men on base.

Unkyd said...

Actually, I need about 6 more of those... Hit me up, smj308!

Tim said...

Although "you can never have enough pitching", we are now in a position to trade some prospects for a leadoff CF.

Trade prospects for Bourn or Brett Gardner. The Braves could use some young pitching and the Yankees could use some pitching, period.

No one in FAgency fits the bill and we don't need another experiment (See: Morgan, Nyjer). The trade avenue seems like the best answer.

Theophilus said...

Anon@1:48 --

Lombardozzi couldn't carry Nellie Fox's bat -- literally. Fox used a 36-oz Louisville Slugger w/ a handle as thick as a lamppost. Not a good comparison. He should be as good in his dreams.

sjm308 said...

OK, here we go
5. not sure we really need a # 3 pitcher behind JZ & SS - I would go CMW, LannEn and then let the battle in spring training be between Peacock, Milone, Detwiler and even Gorzo. I will not be upset with Buerhle or Oswalt but also not upset if neither works out.
6. Let Desmond & Espinosa start the year with Lombo as Cora and see how that plays out.
7. Start the year with Flores as our backup but don't be afraid to package him and LaRoche as we near the trade deadline if we get a terrific player.
8. Bring Harper up as soon as it doesn't impact his years of service, as long as he shows he can field his postion. I am not worried about his bat at all
9. Move Rendon and Purke along at warp speed. We are not dealing with 19 year olds.
10. I really don't have a #10 but if pressed I would look to lower beer prices at the park

Anonymous said...

smj308 and while we are at it
#11. Banish all obnoxious Phils fans from Nats Park.

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