Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The "Big Trade"

When the Nationals acquired Nyjer Morgan yesterday, the reaction from the sabermetric community was almost unanimously negative towards the move for Washington.

Thus Dave Cameron at Fangraphs writes on the trade between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. (The comments are pretty good, too.) I'm a late ballot, but count me as a sabermetric community member who thinks the trade was a good one for Washington.

The big negatives directed at the trade can be reduced to two elements: Lastings Milledge's potential and the idea that Joel Hanrahan can be a good reliever.

I've not seen Milledge play, having last season been following the Detroit Tigers. I've heard of his reputation among the sabermetric community for a couple of years now, but he's a former New York Mets' prospect, and my empirical observations lead me to find Mets' prospects are routinely overhyped. I have, however, seen Elijah Dukes play. I like Dukes. He's not particularly fast, having trouble with the initial acceleration. Consequently, he routinely has problems on the basepaths and in the field. However, he's got an accurate, strong arm. He's a solid, if unspectacular hitter. He'll do in rightfield.

What the Nationals need is a centrefielder who will make up for the defensively challenged Dunn in left and Dukes' mediocrity in right. The Nationals' outfield is a bigger problem than the infield, and easier to fix. As Dave Cameron's defensive analysis illustrated, Morgan is probably about average in centre. This is an improvement and an important one.

Hanrahan is indeed a pitcher with potential, but his experience this season in Washington has just destroyed him. The fans appear to despise him, and management has lost all confidence in him. He may indeed have lost confidence in himself. No lead is safe with Hanrahan on the mound.

The thing is, going forward the Nationals have placed all their bets on a young starting pitching rotation. Tearing up their confidence by having bad defence in the outfield and a bullpen that can't hold a lead is probably the biggest failing of the current roster. Getting rid of Hanrahan and improving the outfield defence are actions that fix the problem. Milledge was surplus to requirements, unless the sabermetric community thinks that it was better to keep Milledge than Dunn. Maybe that's what they do think. But none of them have really addressed this point, that the Nationals have a surplus of corner outfielders. Isn't that what a good GM is supposed to do? Deal from a surplus to fix a problem?

A hearty 'well done, Mr Rizzo' from this corner of the sabermetric community.

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