Nationals Baseball: Middle Infiled review

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Middle Infiled review

The Nats slightly lucky start has afforded Nats fans hope, but it's afforded the front office something equally as coveted. Time.

Time where they can continue to sit and wait and see what transpires as their Tortoise Plan continues on without hearing again and again how they are failing the team. At 15-19* they'd be one week-long losing streak from being raked over the coals, with some justification, by those following the team. "Bring up Strasburg!" "The bullpen is too thin!" "Bring up Storen!" "What the hell is up with RF?" Looking at the past 2 years, they may not actually respond to these calls, but it's hard to ignore the unhappiness of fans when it's translating to a trickle of attendance. At 19-15, they can toss out a "We're always looking to improve but right now what we have is working." and feel that that is enough.

One area the Nats front office can sit back and see what happens is the middle infield. For the season the Nats production from these positions have been hovering around average, and right now it sits slightly below it (Desmond 98 OPS+, Guzman 97 OPS+, Kennedy 87 OPS+). Are we looking at a scenario where the Nats MI is ready to bust out a little, or one where they might be taking a dive? (Fancy stat warning)

Guzman - .308 / .339 / .402. As usual Guzman isn't walking or hitting for power, which means he has to keep that average up. When you are hitting nothing but singles it's a fairly simple thing to see if the players is over his head or not. Check his LD% and his BABIP. There's nothing about his LD% (19.3%) that seems out of whack with what Guzman is capable of. It's a decent number and one that I have no problem believing could sustain a .300 average. His BABIP though, at .367 is too high, the highest of his career and about 30 points higher than his next career best (assuming you ignore the 2007 quarter season). This suggests he'll drop in average. I don't think it'll be a lot, but for Guzman, who ONLY has average, a little IS a lot.

Another worrying aspect about Guzman is the success of the 2007 and 2008 was based in part on making so much contact. His K rates were at or near career lows. This year his percentage is at 15.9% close to his career high of 16.7% from the awful 2005 . He won't recreate 2005, that itself was caused by a crazy low BABIP of .254, but it's another sign that there is likely some drop here.

Kennedy - .247 / .330 / .371. A little more patience and pop than Guzman but not enough to make up for that difference in average. His isoSLG is right around what you'd expect, but that isoOBP (his "true patience" if you will) is higher than he's had I believe ever. That pans out when you look at his walk rate (10.6%) when compared to a number usually in the mid 7.0s the past few years. Fine, less walks are coming - but will he hit better? Yes. His BABIP is at a super low .263, much lower than his career would suggest. This could be caused by age and hitting more weak ground balls but his LD% is right around Guzman's (19.2%). His contact percentages are fine. He's hitting the ball ok, but not getting any breaks. I don't see any reason not to expect Kennedy to pick it up in the next couple of months.

Desmond - .250 / .312 / .430 It's hard to get a good read on Desmond because there is little to go on. He's already had more at bats this year than he did all of last year. As far as I can tell everything is right on line with expectations. His LD% (14.1%) fits well with that average. His BABIP (.293) is almost exactly the same as last year and a perfectly reasonable number for someone with ok speed who tries to hit more for power than to get on base. But if he has about the same BABIP and his LD% has actually improved (was 11%) - why is he not hitting like last year? Well in part he's getting fooled more. His contact % has gone from about 82% to about 77%. He's striking out more and hitting more pop-ups. Really though the aberration isn't this season, it's the last one. It seems like last year Nats fans caught exactly what they thought they were - a streak where Desmond was just on. He wasn't hitting MUCH better than now, but when he was he was crushing it. Streaks like that will happen.

The question now is whether Desmond can adjust or is this about all he has? I don't know. I'd like to say he can, but he's always been a big K guy in the minors so it wouldn't surprise me if he rode streaks all the time. Of course there are worse things to have at the bottom of the lineup than a streak hitter who can also put one out at any time. Certainly Desmond hasn't done anything to make the Nats move back from their position that he is the starter at short. Just about average may be all Desmond is, but just about average controlled cheaply for many years is a good thing.

All in all the MI should keep putting out what they have so far. Desmond likely won't crash or soar (though either are still possible) and while Guzman will probably slip down to somewhere around .280, Kennedy should bump up to somewhere around .270. If you're ok with what you've seen so far, you should be good all season.

*I know there are some Nats fans that hate to have it brought up that the Nats are more a 15-19 team than a 19-15 team. Like I'm insulting the team in some way, or trying to take their fun away. Last year through 34 games the Nats were 12-22. They are a better team , and even at 15-19 they'd be playing like a better team. Why is that so awful?


Hoo said...

I'm pretty pleased with the MI. Defense isn't there and hitting is about what I expected.

The big question of the '10 season for MI has been answered. Desmond can be the shortstop of a playoff contender. That's a hole that doesn't have to be plugged and money spent elsewhere.

I'd guess that Rizzo believes that we've filled 6 out of the 7 every day spots if Dunn resigns. Rizzo can now concentrate on the sole remaining field position that needs an upgrade: 2B.

beef said...

Agreed with Hoo...Im actualyl fine with Desmonds number, as long as he keeps playing a solid SS.

Anonymous said...

Someone give "Debbie Downer" his soup and let him take a nap. This blog is a joke.

Harper said...

Hoo & beef - I basically agree. I think while Desmond like this isn't what they hope for, he's completely usable. Though I will challenge that it's been decided that he can keep up this pace. I think he will, in fact I'll think he'll improve a litte to boot, but we're still talking 54 major league games here.

Hoo - 6 of 7? Are you giving up on RF?

Bryan said...

Harper - I thought the same thing. When Hoo said the sole remaining position, I thought sure he was talking about RF.

And how you miss our RF problem is a mystery to me. Its a bigger hole, IMO, than 2B.

Still, I'm not as sold on Desmond at SS. I'm encouraged, but its going to take more than 34 games this season to convince me. Call me "on my way to convinced."

But if this is the real Desmond, that is damn encouraging. Looking our pitching, with the pitching coming down the pipeline, and our regular guys, I'm now OK with every aspect of this team (for now) minus RF, 2B of the future and the bench.

Of course the Pen needs work, but whose doesn't?

Still, that's not a bad place to be, considering the last 4 years.

Bryan said...

I know I'm jumping ahead here, but bear with me...

If the Nats can survive the rest of May, they are pretty set up in June.

They start with a bad Astros team, and also play a poor Kansas City team, mediocre Indians, Pirates and White Sox teams and a dreadful Orioles team. That's 18 their 27 games in June.

So in 6 of June's 9 match ups, the Nats really should be favored to take 2 out of 3.

The other three match ups are against the beatable Braves, and the Reds & Tigers, who have similiar records.

They could conceivably go 17-10 in June. If they can get through May 4 games over .500, they should - repeat should - get out of June sitting very nicely record wise and have Stras either up, or just around the corner.