Nationals Baseball: The Bench

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Bench

A good bench not only fills a teams simple positional needs but it covers the weaknesses in their starting lineup. Last year the Nats had a mediocre (at best) bench filled with guys that maybe could steal a base (Bernadina), or play decent D (Pudge, Cora, Ankiel in a pinch); but no one that could get a hit and especially no one that could hit a home run.  Expectedly, things got even worse after injuries. Is it going to be any different this year?

Well let's first see what arguably the Nats biggest starting lineup weaknesses are, from biggest to smallest.

AVG:  Usually you ignore average, but when it comes to the bench it matters.  Sometimes a walk isn't good enough.  Sometimes you need that hit.  The Nats regular lineup was pretty terrible at doing that simple task.  Morse, even with a slight slip, Zimmerman, and maybe Ramos can get a hit. I wouldn't bet on anyone else 

isoSLG:  Other times you need more than just a hit, you need a home run.  As a team the Nats were mediocre at hitting the long ball. Individually, Morse was the only one who was great at it but you have to worry about him keeping up a top 10 in the league level. The next best guy on the team just to get the big hit was Nix, who is gone now.  Zimmerman being healthy could pick this up, and Espinosa and Ramos aren't bad, but really LaRoche is the key here.  He was a decent power threat if he was anything but I'm not sure I want to bet on someone coming back from injury hitting for power especially one hitting so feebly before going out.

OF defense:  It all depends on the lineup.  If it were Bernadina-Ankiel-Werth , maybe you can live with that, but that seems an unlikely starting group. Something like Morse-Bernadina-Werth is far more likely, but it's also asking for trouble defensively. With Morse seemingly set in left and CF maybe manned by Werth (who is aging and had an offyear as a corner OF last year), or Bryce (who no one really likes as a CF, but he may be not terrible enough to start) having a great OF defensive player is that much more important.

OBP: Again pretty mediocre. Outside of Werth no one could take a walk, but Morse, Zimmerman and Ramos hit well enough that they are decent bets to get on. It's a little better bet that whoever is up for the Nats can get on base than can get a hit or slug a homer, in my mind.

Handedness : The Nats lineup is righty heavy.  Espinosa switch-hits but is better from the right side and Ankiel lost the split advantage last year.  LaRoche will help, but a lefty bat on the bench is still a need.

MI/3B defense: This is the inflection point. Everything above here is definitely a weakness (sorry - but the offense could be kinda bad this year), everything below this I'd consider a strength or at least something not to worry about.  This one itself is a bit tricky.  Zimmerman had an off year, and Desmond has his issues, but fielding stats can be fickle. I trust that these guys can hold it down.  Then again that's two years now where Desmond hasn't become that great fielder the Nats think he should be. There probably is worth in carrying a slick-fielding SS.

Speed:  Not too bad. Werth, Espinosa, and Desmond are good baserunners and no starter last year was a big liability.  That won't be the case this year as LaRoche is a plodder, and post-injury Zimmerman will be a touch slower.  Still, a pinch runner isn't so big a need that you can't let it get filled as a side product of filling something else above (like OF defense)

1B defense: LaRoche is pretty good.  We'll see if that stays true but this is only an area of need if your first baseman is terrible defensively. LaRoche isn't. 

C defense: Ramos is very good defensively. The back-up need not be.

OK now let's see what the current bench bring to the table. Let's assume Flores, Bernadina, DeRosa, Teahen, and Cameron for now, and look at Lombardozzi.

  • Flores has to be there. He might be a bat with decent pop.  Hard to tell. 
  • Bernadina can give you speed, and play corner OF well. He also bats left. 
  • DeRosa is not really good at anything - maybe give you decent corner OF D? You can't say get on base given what he did in '09 and '10. 
  • Teahen is even worse - let's hope he doesn't break with the team. He does bat left. I can't deny that. 
  • Cameron probably can still play CF well. Offensively a black hole though. 
  • Lombardozzi by all accounts is a good 3B/MI fielder. I'll trust that, but the minor league stats say he's a singly Joe, and one that hasn't shown up in the majors yet.  Switch hits and not a bad baserunner. 

Ugh.  Well as you can see the Nats bench does nothing to address the biggest weaknesses in the Nats lineup.  There are no guys good at getting a hit, no one good at hitting the home run, and no one good at getting on base. Right now you'd have to hope Flores starts showing one of those skills, or maybe Lombardozzi starts rapping a few singles. Defensively though things look ok if Lombardozzi and Cameron are on the squad.  Honestly though, beyond Flores, the only guy I feel the Nats need to keep on the bench is Bernadina.  While you all know I don't like him as a starter at all, he makes a very nice bench guy for this team.

Is there anyone out there that can help the Nats? Probably no one that will take a bench role rather than retire. I think Derrek Lee could help with pop, and JD Drew has always had a good eye, but I imagine both will go home rather than ride the pine for the Nats. Ibanez could bring a lot, if you think 2011 was fluky, but most believe he's completely done. Vlad Guerrero or Magglio Ordonez could be decent "just a hit" guys but that's all they would bring and they are looking at AL teams for one last chance to DH.  Aaron Miles is probably the most interesting guy the Nats could get. He can get a hit and bats lefty. Maybe Jason Varitek as a slug only guy? But neither of these to is anything to get excited about. 

Truth is it's hard to get guys that are good, even at one thing, for your bench because if you are good enough at that one thing, some team will likely find a spot-starting role for you.  You have to move fast, take a chance or two and get a bit lucky. The Nats moved slowly on putting together a bench looking at character as much as skill.  Hopefully that won't cost them when they need a bit hit down the road. 


Kevin Rusch said...

Well, Ankiel helps a bit. Also, what about bringing up Sandy Leon (or another catcher prospect), and have Flores be the sunday catcher and otherwise the primary pinch hitter? He can probably fill in OK at 1b or RF for a few innings.

Bryan said...

One problem with the Nats bench: if they had a guy who could hit, he'd probably be worked into the starting 9, if at all possible.

Harper said...

KR - Ankiel can't help the bench if he's starting (which is my assumption right now). I think what you say might end up being the case if they don't get a good bat and Flores starts hitting well.

Bryan - Depends - a corner OF with blah D might not make it in, same with a 2B or 3B or catcher. what you are looking for is the .220 guy who slugs .420 or the .280 hitter with the .310 OBP and no homers at the positions you don't need a starter.

Donald said...

It's all coming back to the CF need. If we get a good CF, and assume that Harper is on the team at some point, that probably shifts LaRoche to the bench. That gives the bench a leftie with pop who can sub defensively.

Anonymous said...

exactly Donald. Sign a center fielder, put Harper or Werth in left, move Morse back to first and then have Laroche off the bench as a lefty/defensive replacement.

Wally said...

Good article, and spot on. Generally, I think Rizzo has done very well, and in hindsight, I am even good with the Gio trade. So good marks there. But bench? Got to go with D- right now.

As you point out well, and as some commentators have noted, he has 1-3 line-up holes and a poor bench to boot. Doesn't seem like a 'go-for-it' approach. And the shame of it is that I think that he could have a pretty good one made up of guys who were available most offseason and could have been had for a total of $5m or so.

If you replace 'DeRosa, Teahen, and Cameron' with 'Chavez, Cody Ross and Keppinger', what is the WAR improvement? Possibly 2 WAR? Plus you get some back up plans for a starter or two. That seems like huge value for bench guys to add to a possible contender.

The only conclusion that I can see is that Rizzo just doesn't see value in bench guys. I guess I can see that if you think that your lineup is good 1-8, and expected to play 140 games each. That doesn't describe us, unfortunately.

Not sure what to do now. Johnny Damon?

Harper said...

Donald / Anon - assuming LaRoche can hit with some pop post-injury - that works does work out well. It doesn't solve the AVG and REALLY doesn't solve the OBP issues, but it makes the bench better.

Wally - my sense is that Rizzo uses the bench to build the character of the team. Get good guys that aren't dead yet and hope for the best. Worked for Hairston. Didn't for Cora.

Next? I'd sign Miles while I could, and promote Micahel Aubrey to be the lefty power bat. Start the season (assuming Ankiel is in CF and Bryce is in Syracuse) with a bench of Bernadina, Lombardozzi, Miles, Aubrey, Flores, and DeRosa. Lombardozzi and Bernadina are your pinch runners and defensive replacements, Miles is the hit-guy, Aubrey the pop, DeRosa the defacto OBP if he can pull it off. It leaves no CF defense guy but I'd rather roll with Ankiel than carry Cameron's bat. If you feel differently than you keep Cameron, hope he can give you some righty pop and don't bother signing Miles. I think that Aubrey is as good as anyone they might sign for what he'll do.

blovy8 said...

The only guy you'd use Bernadina as a defensive replacement for is Morse, and I don't like that tradeoff very often. Notwithstanding last year's defensive metrics, Ankiel's glove isn't likely to make up for his terrible offense every day. You really can't sacrifice that much offense on this team. I would rather have Werth in center and Bernadina in right and use Ankiel or Cameron as the defensive replacements. Cameron probably still would have some value as a pinch hitter or in a platoon against lefties where he plays center and Werth goes to right. Pinch hitting is probably about as reliable and clutch hitting year to year. DeRosa is a decent gamble, they should know pretty quickly if he can hit at all anymore. They may have to take scraps for the bench, but if you're being honest with the potential free agents, what can you really offer them in the way of playing time if they can't play center? Waiting for a bargain like Jackson is what Rizzo is probably doing.

Anonymous said...

love the blog...this post throws a dose of reality my way. I think I was starting to get overly optimistic for the season but then I read this. Thanks for helping to "manage my expectations" lol

Harper said...

blovy8 - assuming Werth is ok in CF you might do that (since Bernie v Ankiel is kind of a wash at the plate) but I'm not sure he will be. Not sure. Pinch hitting goes like clutch hitting but all that means is guys it should vary a bunch around a central point that is the natural talent level. You should set that central point as high as you can. As for a bargain... I can see that, maybe it'll work out with a Magglio Damon for 1 million or something

anon - no problem

Medeiros said...

Well, Ankiel helps a bit. Also, what about bringing up Sandy Leon (or another catcher prospect), and have Flores be the sunday catcher and otherwise the primary pinch hitter? He can probably fill in OK at 1b or RF for a few innings.

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