Nationals Baseball: Defense Defense Defense

Friday, March 03, 2023

Defense Defense Defense

 It was hard to see last year because the Nats couldn't hit and couldn't pitch, but they also couldn't field*  Defensive stats are notoriously unreliable but when Defensive Efficiency (25th), and Fangraph's defensive WAR (29th) and just plain errors committed (29th) are all telling the same story, you can be pretty sure the story is true. While we don't forsee big improvements in pitching or hitting, could defense be the exception? 

Catcher - Ruiz/Adams : Catcher is tough because of it's different demands but turns out what we see stats wise matches up well with the eyeballs, at least for me. Ruiz actaully ranks as a pretty decent catcher and Adams is straight trash.  Pretty simple then - if anyone beats out Adams backing up Ruiz it'll be an improvement.

First - Bell/Meneses/Voit : Bell isn't good and Voit and Meneses looked really bad. Dom Smith hasn't played full-time first ever in the majors and has looked all over the place. He'll probably be better than Bell but I won't guarantee it. 

Second - Hernandez/Garcia : Hernandez played a middling 2B while in his brief stint Garcia looked better than that. Kind of the same as 1B where it'll probably improve but no guarantees.  Still this move is important because... 

Shortstop - Garcia/Escobar/Abrams : Garcia is NOT a SS and was bad. Getting him out of there is an improvement almost regardless of who comes in. Abrams, if he can keep the errors down might turn a big negative into a minor plus at an important position. That would be a big deal. But even getting to slightly below average would be a big improvement. Vargas is a competent back-up no worse than the aging Escobar

Third Base - Franco/Vargas : Franco was not the worst and Varags was actually pretty good. Candelario probably matches up with Franco so things probably stay neutral here which is ok because the Nats 3rd base defense was fine. 

Center Field - Robles/Thomas : Robles is good and is probably the best fielder at any position the Nats have currently. Thomas merely can hang. Given Thomas is the likely replacement for Robles, this comes down to playing time. The more Thomas plays in CF over Robles compared to last year the worse the fielding here will get. A small plus will go away. 

Right Field - Soto/Thomas/Meneses : As we talked about yesterday (and I've talked about for years) Soto is not good. He is bad (in the field)!Thomas is ok compared to a lot of guys stuck in a corner. Assuming he gets most of his time here and not in CF the OF will be better. 

Left Field -  Yadi/Thomas/Call : Yadi is not good. Lane is we talked about this before. Call is actually decent. All these guys are back but it's Dickerson that will likely log the most innings out there and he's probably around what Thomas is. But if age gets him it could get bad. Still you'd lean toward slight improvement. 

So it's an interesting situation. The Nats should be better with Garcia off SS and getting more time at 2B, and Smith at 1B and Soto and Yadi out in favor of Dickerson and more time for Robles/Thomas. It doesn't mean they will be very good, they are coming up from terrible, but they should be at least passable. And I think they could be very good.  Ruiz and Abrams feel like they have that level of talent. Robles we know he does. Though one or two may shake out to be, there isn't necessarily a weak spot to start the year in the starting nine. The worst likely possibility is just that Adams backs up Ruiz. 

But there is also some potential to remain bad. Abrams does need to learn to keep the errors down, he should eventually but maybe he doesn't this year. And maybe the Nats get tired of Robles not hitting and barely play him shifting the kind of out of position Thomas to CF who will be unable to help out a meh Dickerson. If the next guy up is Yadi or another bat first guy the OF D could go from pretty good to pretty bad in a heartbeat. Really Abrams is sort of the key. Garcia was so bad at SS that as long as Abrams is ok, the defense will overall almost have to be better.

It's up to the Nats. Being the worst means there's room for easy improvement and it seems like they have made changes that will show that. But if they start fiddling with it for other reasons... well they better be right about those other reasons.


*What exactly is Davey doing? No one knows other than riding off the luck of being here when the team won a series around him.

1 comment:

Mike Condray said...

Worth checking on: I don't recall the exact source, but I've seen commentary that the 2022 Nationals were DFL (Dead Flipping Last) in MLB in team defense (as measured by converting batted balls into outs). But that changed rather dramatically circa ~14 Aug 2022 when CJ took over at SS while LG moved to 2B. For the balance of the season the Nats were apparently #7 in MLB in converting batted balls into outs (which, FWIW, matches the eye test as well).

Also noteworthy that the Nats were 9-7 (including against several playoff teams) during that brief interval between "CJ at SS" and "Ruiz got hurt". Keiburt, CJ/LG and VR provide at least a chance at good defense "up the middle". The (yes, SSS, but it's the only sample we have right now) data from 2022 at least supports if by no means confirms this notion.

That #30 to #7 in MLB at converting batted balls into outs may have been addition-by-subtraction at SS as well as LG's 2B stats matching up with a not-so-good Cesar Hernandez. But if verified, that would provide at least some grounds for optimism w/r/to Nats 2023 team defense.

And while he may well end up in AAA to start the year, it's interesting that Jake Alu (who had great, albeit AAA, defensive stats at 3B in 2022) is getting a lot of reps at 2B so far in Spring Training.