Nationals Baseball: Look at them, they can't be, centerfield

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Look at them, they can't be, centerfield

The idea of a mess in centerfield must bring up the same sensations as coming home to a Nationals fan. From the team's inception, the land of Mantle and Mays has been a defining problem. They've played guys who could have been centerfielders at one point, just not when the Nats tried them (Wilkerson, Preston Wilson). They've played guys who would eventually be good enough, just not when the Nats tried them (Marlon Byrd). They've occasionally started guys better suited for 4th or 5th OF slots (Willie Harris). They occasionally treated like a 4th or 5th OF guys better suited to start (Ryan Church). They've started guys that they hoped would learn to hit (Nook Logan), and guys that they hoped would learn to field (Lastings Milledge).

Last year was supposed to be different though. Nyjer Morgan could certainly field and even if he would never hit again like he did in those last 50 games with the Nats in 2009, his career numbers suggested a guy that would at least be average. Now me being super s-m-r-t and all - I kind of felt Nats fans were getting ahead of themselves. Morgan's "career stats" were too limited to really draw any sort of conclusion from. I thought he could do worse than expected. Then he surprised everyone by being the worst offensive CF in baseball.

The Nats are back to square one now. No good options in center. They have three guys, in Bernadina, Ankiel, and Nix that COULD play center and COULD hit, but for none of the three is it their natural position. Any of the three could ending up failing both in the field and at the plate and it wouldn't be that much of a surprise. Which is why I'm for starting Nyjer Morgan in center. I feel pretty confident that despite the hiccups last year, he can play the position better than anyone on the Nats roster right now. If the Nats are really going defense first it would be silly to take arguably the 2nd most important defensive position and go with another "hope this works out" situation.

If the Nats were dealing with someone younger (I'm looking at you Corey Brown) or more offensively adept I'd probably be on the "No Morgan" bandwagon. But Ankiel is older, Nix is the same age, and Bernadina, the baby, still turns 27 in a few months. There isn't anyone aging into his prime here. As for offensively, yeah Morgan sucked last season (.253 / .319 / .314) but so did Bernadina (.246 / .307 / .384). Ankiel wasn't quite as bad (.232 / .321 / .389) but that's still not good and the year before he had the same average and slugging with a .285 OBP.

Defensively, there is even less in favor of switching from Morgan. All the fancy fielding stats (UZR, Total Zone, and Fielding WAR, if you must now) favor Nyjer over these two in admittedly a BAD year from him in the field. If you are pulling for Roger or Rick I have to ask, what exactly is your motivation?

(which brings up by omission the interesting point that Laynce Nix is the only one of the four that was good at the plate last year and didn't have a terrible season offensively in one of the past 2 years. He hasn't played enough CF in years to be a good judge of how well he'd do there now, but he was excellent in left for the Reds last year and unlike Bernadina and Ankiel, he hasn't proven he CAN'T play center at a high level. Which means OF COURSE he's only being considered for the spot as an emergency back-up. Let's be serious, this is still the Nats here.)

Morgan shouldn't have the leash he had last year. If he struggles mightily at the plate again, then he can be pulled and pulled pretty quickly. One year is an aberration, two is a pattern. But if he does struggle enough to get pulled, I won't care who plays the position after him. (Unless it's Corey Brown). Whoever it is it will almost certainly be just another chapter in the sorry CF mess the Nats suffer through year after year. The never ending curse of Inning-Endy Chavez.


DezoPenguin said...

It's columns like this that make me weep for the Raines/Dawson/Cromartie OF days. Or the Alou/Grisson/Walker group.

Hoo said...

I'm rooting but skeptical of Morgan's rebound. I'm more intrigued by Bernie b/c still has the chance to blossom and not suck. He's prime age and has looked good in bursts. There's a good chance that he's better than last year's numbers. Age is less important to Roger b/c his game isn't totally all speed, he has some pop. All Morgan has is speed.

And of course Bernadina is a better baserunner than Morgan. I'm just hoping that CF isn't the blackhole of suck that it was last year, but I'm not optimistic.

I'm saving my irrational optimism for the corner outfield spots being really good and the SPs being better than expected. Weird to think that the strength of this team will be in the pitching.

Anonymous said...

If Morgan can't rebound it also would mean that another lead-off hitter is needed. Ankiel doesn't fit that mold well, and Bernadina numbers aren't any better than Morgan. I hope Morgan rebounds, but it may turn out that CF is part of the reason the Nats finish under .500.

Mythical Monkey said...

I'm with you -- the Nats pretty much have to pray Morgan works out in center and in the leadoff spot because no other single player on the roster is likely to fill both spots.

Still, if he's fielding his position well by opening day that should be enough to earn a spot somewhere in the lineup. I'd rather have a good fielder in center than a mediocre one who is marginally better at the plate.

But what do I know. If these guys followed my advice, they'd lose 100 games a year.

Oh, wait ...

Harper said...

Dezo - How about Vlad/Brad/and a sack of potatoes?

Hoo - Bernie's age is a valid reason...if you like the guy. Personally I don't have faith in his offense so age becomes moot and his defense is not going to catch-up. But yes just sqeak out league average from someone and everyone should be happy.

Anon - That's true if you want the typical speedy slap-hitting leadoff hitter. If you only want someone who can get on base...oh well the Nats don't have any of those guys either (Werth and Zimm can't/won't bat leadoff). If Morgan cant get on base they really would need another bat, prototypical leadoff or new thinking.

MM - All aboard the Morgan Crazy Train. Hahahahahah! duhduh. duhduh duhduh duhduh. ay ay ay

crazynat11 said...

Well, in a year or so we will have Harper at RF and Werth at CF, so I can take Morgan for a little bit longer

DSK said...

Lately your posts resemble the arranging of deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ben said...

Bernie crushes both other contenders for the position.

1. He's not a liability in the field. He's shown he can make the spectacular plays, if not quite as consistently as Morgan. But Bernie's also got a level head so we can rule out throwing his glove on the field or those rockets to home from CF with runners on 1+2.

2. His hitting numbers were on par with Morgan, without getting the chance to develop a daily routine, not to mention that he was hitting all over the lineup (1, 8, 7, even 3 for awhile). His OBP would be 20-30 points higher if he's leadoff, though his SLG may suffer.

3. His base running and baseball instincts make the difference. Morgan was caught just as many times as he stole last year. Bernie had something like 18 steals with only being caught twice. Plus he knows the game much better than Morgan, and his bunt form is perfect.

Toss in the fact that he's just hitting his age prime and we've got ourselves a winner

Ryan said...

Bernadina sucked last year. 307 OBP and you want him to lead off, why? even Nyjer Morgan had a higher OBP.

Harper said...

crazynat11 - Werth in CF? Hope not. If he was playing it now, he'd be aging out of it.

DSK - pleasantly facing toward an open ocean? Honestly, there is a lot better about the team, but "Adam Laroche should be fine" is just not compelling.

Ben -
1. Not a liability? Yes. Even headed? seemingly. Better than Nyjer game after game for a season? No. And it probably isn't close.

2. You can't say he'll get on base more simply because he's plopped into the leadoff spot. Doesn't work that way. Some guys get it, some don't.

3. No argument - Morgan has no natural instinct out there.

If Bernie starts it's not a terrible decision. I just feel like you can go Morgan to Bernadina easily, if Morgan craps out. But Bernadina to Morgan would be harder. Just feels that way to me.