Monday, 1 June 2009

Field of Goats

I haven't decided whether to do a Goat of the Day for the loss today against the Phillies. I have, however, finally done something I've been meaning to do for a while.

Nationals fans don't need to be told that their fielding is poor. The real question is 'how poor?'. Your typical baseball fan looks at the players objectively, in a kind of philosophical way. Babe Ruth or Ted Williams is the 'ideal' major-league ballplayer. Someone like Willie Horton has certain ballplayer qualities, but is not so perfect. Then you have the Sandy Valdespinos of this world, who have been seen with major-league ballplayers, but few would mistake them for one.

However, in practical terms, a baseball 'manager' needs to look at a team relatively, not objectively. Relative to what? Why, to their peers, of course. If your team's players are universally in the lower regions of a skill set, you've got a problem that needs fixing. Compare all your problems, and the worst ones are the ones that most need attention.

Instead of trotting out some numbers, and pretending to be all scientific, I'm going to be wholly empirical. Let me take the RZR numbers from The Hardball Times' fielding statistics, and rank all Nationals' fielders who have played 96 innings against the National League qualifiers at each position. (Catchers don't get an RZR, so we'll ignore them.) Please note that at no position do we have sixteen qualifiers, but usually about twelve or so.

1b: Johnson, 9th.
2b: Hernandez, 8th; Belliard, 1st.
3b: Zimmerman, 5th.
ss: Guzman, last; Gonzalez, 12th (or one ahead of Guzman).
lf: Willingham, 4th; Dunn, last.
cf: Dukes, last; Harris, last.
rf: Kearns, 12th; Dunn, last.

So, any suggestions?

I have two. Use Belliard as a late-inning defensive replacement for Hernandez. He's doing quite well with the leather. Make Willingham the regular left-fielder. On the evidence so far he's a tolerable glove out there. Most everything else is a sinkhole, defensively, except for Zimmerman, and even he's not going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson in a hurry. A centerfielder is probably the most urgent need, since none of the options tried so far (except possibly for Kearns, whose sample size is as yet too small) finish anything but last.

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