Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shifting focus

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ivan Rodriguez has quietly hit .370, one of several regulars putting up big numbers.
TAMPA -- The first month of spring training is for pitchers. It takes a good four or five weeks for guys to get their arms in shape, to build up their stamina and to get a feel for their repertoires. So much of what you read about in late-February and early-March is centered around pitchers' performances, both in bullpen sessions and then later in exhibition games.

But at this point -- with 11 days to go until the season opener -- we've got a pretty good idea what the Nationals' pitching staff will look like. John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Garrett Mock, Livan Hernandez and (probably) Craig Stammen will be in the rotation. Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and (probably) Jason Bergmann and Tyler Walker, plus one other guy (Miguel Batista, J.D. Martin or Jesse English) will make up the bullpen.

So it's time to start shifting focus away from pitching and onto the guys standing at the plate with bats in hand. Managers and talent evaluators usually don't pay much attention to offensive numbers early in the exhibition schedule, because pitchers are always ahead of hitters. But around this time, there begins to be an expectation of progress, of hitters finding their stroke and putting together more quality at-bats.

I haven't made much mention of offensive stats this spring (aside from a now-daily update of Justin Maxwell's fast-fading batting average) so let's run through all the guys of consequence and see how they've done at the plate so far...
Nyjer Morgan: .143 (3-for-21), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 BB, 3 SO
Cristian Guzman: .231 (6-for-26), 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 3 SO
Ryan Zimmerman: .421 (16-for-38), 5 HR, 8 RBI, 1 BB, 6 SO
Adam Dunn: .179 (5-for-28), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 7 SO
Josh Willingham: .346 (9-for-26), 4 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 3 SO
Adam Kennedy: .300 (12-for-40), 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 4 SO
Ivan Rodriguez: .370 (10-for-27), 0 HR, 7 RBI, 1 BB, 5 SO
Willie Harris: .290 (9-for-31), 1 HR, 6 RBI, 7 BB, 6 SO
Ian Desmond: .326 (15-for-46), 1 HR, 12 RBI, 5 BB, 7 SO
Mike Morse: .225 (9-for-40), 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 11 SO
Justin Maxwell: .093 (4-for-43), 1 HR, 4 RBI, 8 BB, 18 SO
Willy Taveras: .333 (8-for-24), 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 5 SO
Roger Bernadina: .242 (8-for-33), 0 HR, 1 RBI, 5 BB, 8 SO
Eric Bruntlett: .267 (8-for-30), 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 12 SO
Alberto Gonzalez: .370 (10-for-27), 0 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 4 SO
Wil Nieves: .273 (9-for-33), 0 HR, 6 RBI, 0 BB, 1 SO

A couple of thoughts...

-- Many of the regulars have produced quite well this spring, especially Zimmerman, Willingham and Rodriguez (who I have to admit I didn't realize had done so much until I looked at his numbers this morning). They all look good and ready to go when the bell rings on April 5.

-- It's time for Dunn and Morgan to get it going. You can't really worry about Dunn too much, because he's got as reliable a track record at the plate as anyone in baseball. But you'd like to see him start producing a little more as March winds down, hoping he's not still trying to find himself come April. Morgan, on the other hand, needs to step it up. He's scheduled to return to the lineup tonight after missing more than a week with a tight hamstring. This guy is crucial to the Nats' offensive success this season. When he was on last season, he made a huge difference at the top of the lineup. But he's far from an established big-league player at this point, so you can't just take it for granted that he'll hit in the regular season if he doesn't hit in the spring.

-- Another guy who has really quietly had a nice spring at the plate is Gonzalez, who is never thought of as an offensive threat but is batting a robust .370 this spring. A week ago, I would have said Bruntlett was a lock to make the roster as the backup infielder, but perhaps Gonzo's late push could make team officials reconsider this.

-- If you were going to select your starting shortstop and right fielder based on spring stats alone, Desmond and a Harris/Taveras combo would get the nod. But as we all know, spring numbers are only one factor taken into consideration. These decisions remain very much up in the air as we approach the final week of camp.


Nats fan in NJ said...

I really want Gonzalez to succeed. I like the kid, love his glove, but I just don't trust that bat in the slightest...

Sam said...

If Spring Training were a consideration, shouldn't last September be one too? If we are going to take small spurts and say, look, this guy hit well, he deserves to be on the roster, then we can apply this to any time frame, right? Maxwell hit really well in September last year. Shouldn't that be as much under consideration as March?

If Adam Dunn is hitting .210/.300/.350 after April, should Riggleman bench him?

One of the reasons I am ranting about these numbers is Willy Taveras. He is just not a Major League caliber player. He is absolutely awful at the plate and provides marginal defense. It would be an absolute shame to grant him a roster spot and possible platoon with Harris (especially at right field). Leave this guy for managers like Dusty Baker who don't understand baseball.

Tom M said...

Any thoughts on whether Dunn's contract situation is weighing on him? Be nice to get that done before the season starts because high-walk, 40 HR guys aren't exactly a dime a dozen.

jcj5y said...

I agree completely with Sam's comments on Maxwell. I don't understand the point of cutting ties with Dukes if you aren't going to give Maxwell a chance to produce at the big-league level. Harris and Taveras are known quantities. A 40-AB stretch should not put Maxwell out of the picture after the September he had last year. And I don't even really like Maxwell as a player that much.

Lintyfresh85 said...

Willy certainly doesn't clog the bases with his sub .300 OBP.

I can see why Dusty loved him so much.

Dave Nichols said...

enlightened commentary from the readers today.

that the team is basing decisions on spring training statistics goes a long way in explaining still how far this franchise has to go.

cutting Dukes without a solid Plan B was a bad idea, regardless of his popularity in the clubhouse.

Deacon Drake said...

The lack of BB out of everybody is a little concerning... Spring training sees a lot of bad pitching, and the Nats' hitters (aside from Willie Harris- Maxwell doesn't count because he is striking out 45% of the time) are chasing every wet biscuit out of the pitcher's hand.

I know guys want to get up into the box and take their cuts, make something happen, but you can't score if you can't get on base...

Mark said...

The Dukes' Plan B: Heard on XM this morning, that the Metsies are looking to move Gary Mathews, Jr. I'm not in love with him, but I like him better than the current options. What about a salary swap where we send the Guz to NY as Reyes insurance and we take the Little Sarge's contract in exchange?

Anonymous said...

I sold cars for a couple of years (yes, I'm much better now).

Twice in that time, the top seller from another store moved over to our dealership. I mean, these guys were top-notch.

One guy started off really slow (2 cars the first month when the average is 9)and the boss threatened to fire him (he had averaged 13/mo at his other store). Half way into his second month, he was still having trouble and was fired.

He moved to another dealership and sold 15 his first month there.

Long-winded story, but the point is that great players have bad springs and bad players have great springs.

It makes no sense to add a player to the roster for Opening Day, or not add him, based on his spring stats seems very strange.

When I lived in Seattle in '81-'83, the Mariners had a 29-year-old named Steve Straughter who made the team one year based on an unbelievable spring but did terribly with the Mariners and was released. He had failed to make it to the majors in a decade as a minor leaguer -- why suddenly should he take the spot of another player because of two hot months?

Spring numbers should be just one of many factors a team looks at to decide who comes north.

Just my point of view.

Anonymous said...

If Gonzalez or Tavares make the team out of spring training we're screwed.

erocks33 said...

Someone asked if ST stats are taken into consideration, then shouldn’t last September’s too? Well, I decided to add in last Sept’s stats to this years ST stats. Look them over if you want:

Morgan: didn’t play in September, on the DL
Guzman: .189 (18-95), 1 HR, 10 RBI, 3 BB, 15 SO
Zimmerman: .301 (44-146), 11 HR, 24 RBI, 12 BB, 28 SO
Dunn: .205 (26-127), 3 HR, 16 RBI, 21 BB, 35 SO
Willingham: .198 (23-116), 7 HR, 11 RBI, 13 BB, 32 SO
Kennedy: .336 (49-146), 1 HR, 18 RBI, 15 BB, 22 SO
Rodriguez: .260 (26-100), 1 HR, 16 RBI, 3 BB, 18 SO
Harris: .277 (31-112), 3 HR, 12 RBI, 22 BB, 19 SO
Desmond: .297 (38-128), 5 HR, 24 RBI, 10 BB, 21 SO
Morse: .244 (20-82), 5 HR, 17 RBI, 5 BB, 24 SO
Maxwell: .213 (23-108), 5 HR, 12 RBI, 16 BB, 39 SO
Taveras: .333 (11-33), 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 6 SO
Bernadina: didn’t play in September, on the DL
Bruntlett: .256 (10-39), 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 16 SO
Gonzalez: .323 (30-93), 0 HR, 11 RBI, 6 BB, 9 SO
Nieves: .270 (20-74), 0 HR, 9 RBI, 8 BB, 8 SO
Dukes: .233 (24-103), 0 HR, 6 RBI, 21 BB, 19 SO

alexva said...

For the time being, platoon Maxwell & Bernadina. Harris & Morse need to be available off the bench. It is merely the best of a bad situation right now.

joNAThan said...

Matthews is a terrible idea..he has at least 2 years and over $20 million left on his contract..why tie up money on a man who will not produce commensurate #'s..better off with a Livo/Marquis platoon in RF

erocks33 said...

I believe that the Angels are paying most of Matthews remaining contract (I think the Mets are only on the hook for 2 years and $2M).

Still, I wouldn't want him on the Nats even if he were free. He stinks.

And speaking of bad contracts, I know the Royals would love to get rid of Jose Guillen's! Maybe the Nats can pry him from KC and bring the entire 2005 lineup back (he says mockingly).

greg said...

what erocks said. it would be 2yrs/$2m.

but no thanks. i'd rather see willie harris play every day than bring matthews over.

Anonymous said...

Chad Gaudin was released today by the Yankees, he could be worth a pick up. This guy was a very good pitcher when when he was with the A's and I would say easily as good as our fifth starter.

This guy is still young too.

Rizzo please look into this!

Steve M. said...

Dave Nichols said...
cutting Dukes without a solid Plan B was a bad idea, regardless of his popularity in the clubhouse.

You are right. It was bad baseball as the only one that seemed to come forward with a problem seemed to be Dukes heir apparent Mr. Maxwell and he has faltered himself greatly. Nobody seemed worried about Dukes except JayB regarding Dukes winter schedule. Look, Dukes wasn't looking like an All Star or anything but like you said, no Plan B was in place.

I thought there must have been a Rizzo blockbuster working to get a new RF which would probably be in a trade for a young arm.

Mark Zuckerman said...

erocks33: Wow, good stuff! Thanks for calculating all that.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "no plan B" and rightfield after Elijah Dukes, I think the team believeed that he was such a cancer in the clubhouse (regardless of the fact that he hadn't killed anyone) that anyone in right was better than Dukes.

And just because we don't see a "plan B" yet doesn't mean there isn't one. You all know how tight-lipped Mike Rizzo is about signings and trades.

There could be a huge trade that might go down any minute for a great right fielder.

You just never know.

Were this Jim Bowden we were talking about, I'd be worried. But Rizzo has earned both my respect and my trust -- I'm willing to believe that he knows what he's doing.

For now.

Sam said...

We don't have to get into the basics of sabermetrics, do we? Two things: first, I was being sarcastic. I don't really care about a one month or two month sample. I was using the September example to illustrate that Spring stats do not matter.

Second, batting average, really? Why? It's obvious Dunn isn't going to hit higher than .260. Does that make him bad? You guys definitely know better than to use batting average to judge a hitter.

Anonymous said...

This statement really caught my eye.
"Managers and talent evaluators usually don't pay much attention to offensive numbers early in the exhibition schedule, because pitchers are always ahead of hitters."

I guess Nat's pitchers were the exception?

peric said...

Maxwell is just making it easier for Michael Burgess to move into that slot. Which probably would not be a bad thing in management's mind. Be interesting to see if Burgess gets placed at Harrisburg and how that plays out.

That's your long-term plan B I would imagine. Can't be all that much worst than waiting for Wang, JZimmnn, and now Olsen (if they keep him). They aren't going anywhere this year.

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