Friday, April 2, 2010

The value of versatility

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman could get playing time at any of perhaps five positions.
At some point on my trek up I-95 yesterday -- I was probably in South Carolina at the time -- I got word Cristian Guzman had played one inning in right field for the Nationals.

Good thing I was stuck in traffic at that moment or else I might have driven my car straight into a Jersey wall.

Shocking as it sounded at the time, it really isn't all that surprising when you think about it. If we've learned anything about Jim Riggleman during his eight months as interim/permanent manager, it's that the guy values versatility. There's hardly a player on the Nationals' roster that Riggleman hasn't mentioned moving around to multiple positions this spring, aside from perhaps Ryan Zimmerman and Ivan Rodriguez.

Let's see ...

-- Willie Harris will be the starting right fielder. Unless he plays center field or left field on a given day. Or second base. Or third base.

-- Mike Morse will get time in right field. And first base. And third base.

-- Eric Bruntlett, if he makes the club, will play second base, shortstop, third base, first base and perhaps the outfield.

-- Adam Kennedy is the starting second baseman. But he could become the late-inning replacement for Adam Dunn at first base.

-- Alberto Gonzalez will play shortstop, second base, third base and perhaps even first base.

-- Josh Willingham can be the emergency catcher if needed.

-- And Guzman may just wind up playing five different positions when it's all said and done: shortstop, second base, third base, first base and right field.

Riggleman says it's all about trying to get Guzman into the lineup as much as possible, a task made all the more difficult when Ian Desmond beat him out for the starting shortstop job. The two-time All-Star shortstop, who had never played any other position in a regular-season, big-league game, made his debut at second base on Wednesday, worked out at first base during pregame drills and yesterday found himself in the outfield for the first time in his life.

This is the way Riggleman operates, though. He's an old-school manager who learned his craft from the likes of George Kissell, Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa. To Riggleman, a baseball player is a baseball player is a baseball player. And a good ballplayer should be able to hold his own just about anywhere on the field.

There is some value in this, especially in the National League. Riggleman loves to pull double-switches, so he likes to have multiple options at his disposal.

He certainly figures to have them once the season begins Monday. Imagine what might happen if the Nats hold a slim lead over the Phillies entering the eighth inning...

"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. These defensive changes for the Nationals. Moving from second base to first base: Adam Kennedy. Entering the game at second base and batting ninth: Cristian Guzman. Entering the game in right field and batting seventh: Willy Taveras. And now pitching and batting fourth: Brian Bruney."

A word of advice for those of you who plan to keep score during games this season: Use a pencil, not a pen.


Jenn Jenson said...

Hmmm ... seems to me that both versatility and consistency have value. Willie Harris is a great asset for his versatility, but not everyone is made like Willie.

On the other hand, I can imagine a scenario where expecting everyone to be flexible is part of a larger strategy that emphasizes the team over individuals. It's still spring training, so my official position has to be hope on this one, at least for now.

I will be interested to see whether errors differ depending on whether a guy is playing his most natural position. If we're lucky, the sample size will be too small for this kind of analysis (see Hope, above).

Anonymous said...

For a team as bad defensively as the Nationals, I have a hard time seeing any strategy that involves moving players around to positions that they're not as comfortable with as a good thing. We already make more than enough errors playing the same positions consistently.

Anonymous said...

Looks like my scorecard book, is not going to be to neat. But I will deal.

Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

I heard that the field mainenance will get a chance at first base, some fans, the color announcer and ????

Where is Whitesell?? An actual first baseman with a power bat who should spell Dunn!!!

Team will be a joke with musical first baseman

PDowdy83 said...

Whitesell is not good! That is why he is in the MINORS. His power bat hit all of 2 HRs in 140 major league plate appearances. He also isn't all that great with the glove either. Better than Dunn, but not league average.

Did anybody else see the rumor about the Brewers discussing sending Corey Hart to us in a trade?

Anonymous said...

The Nationals are already a joke in the field. But I am with Riggles here, in that the defense can't get much worse!

Anonymous said...

What about trying to pick up Mientkiewicz? Part of the bench versatility could actually be about putting someone in the lineup who steadies the infield defense for whomever is playing SS and 2B. Doesn't that make sense for a pitching staff replete with ground ball pitchers?

Matteo said...

This could be a good move. If Guzman can keep the bat hot early on and show he can handle 2B and maybe right field, you can possibly move him to a contender for prospects for next year. Or maybe a real right fielder.

Steve said...

If Guzman's arm/shoulder is in question at SS, what good is he in RF?

joNAThan said...

PDowdy, where did you hear about Hart? That wouldn't be a bad idea. The Brewers need pitching so maybe Rizzo can ship out one of our "assets" to Milwaukee.

Doc said...

Mark this versatility thing is OK if the players are properly prepared to move around. Prepartation means the coaches are drilling them mentally and physically, daily! Otherwise MLB's worst fielding team continues to be just that--or even worse!

Anonymous said...

My comment to all is that from my observation in spring training, Riggleman values defense and is working to improve it. The team took infield after BP every game. He personally was working with Dunn at 1b, etc. There is an attention to detail here that was not seen in the previous administration. I have a lot of confidence that the defense is going to be better, no matter how 'versitile' the team is this year.

Section 222 said...

I get queasy everytime I hear of a move to get at bats for a veteran who you'd like to trade. Shades of Lo Duca and Estrada in June of '08. What a disaster that was. I'm glad Guzzy is going to be available to play the infield positions, but the fact that he might play in right field shows only how bare the cupboard is out there. Sad.

peric said...

Corey Hart only makes what is now a problem even worst.

From Jim Breen and Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:

Should Corey Hart be starting in right field for the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day?

Hart has only managed a .300 and .335 OBP over the past two years, respectively. He plays a well below-average right field, and the low-outside slider still has proven to give him fits this spring. His power has always been decent, but even that began to dip in 2009 (though five of his six Cactus League hits have been for extra bases).

Using FanGraphs' WAR statistic, Corey was only worth 0.8 wins above replacement in 2009. Even Wladimir Balentin was more valuable last season, and he only hit .234/.305/.385 for the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners. Even Milton Bradley was more valuable...

The story is not improving this spring.

Steve M. said...

I love Jenn Jenson's analysis. A lot of hope. A few prayers cant hurt either. If I was Manager Riggles, I would be ticked off when looking at his starting rotation, closer, RF, 2B, and C.

He got a starter in Marquis and a choice of guys he had last year with the exception of JZim and Detwiler who are on the DL.

He has the same infield he basically finished the season with and now has Kennedy which some feel wasn't an upgrade from Ronnie Belliard.

He has the same outfield he had at the end of July except now he is missing Dukes.

He got a future HOF in Pudge. He had a good Spring. Hope it works out.

He has a closer who was kicked to the curb by the Pirates and has much to prove which was sort of the bullpen 2009 scenario at the beginning of the season.

So net net, what did his GM do for him?

Like Jenn Jenson said HOPE, or was that President Obama's slogan....

greg said...

more important than anything is the question: does god just hate the nationals??

Anonymous said...

A traffic jam in SC...I didn't know that was possible, I've never seen one, honestly...JTinSC

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