Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Nationals' Postmortem #3 - 'Batting Third, Ryan Zimmerman'

So, armed with the Ashley Hexagon, let's take a look at the Nationals' lineup in more detail. In this series of posts, I propose to look at each lineup slot, and the players who batted there, to see if they are more or less like the average National League batter at that position. Then, we'll see what that might tell us about who the Nationals might like to target this offseason, in the 'drive to 75'.

As a benchmark, I'm going to focus in each position on the player who got at least 80 per cent of the Plate Appearances. If nobody reached 80 per cent, then I'll add in players, in order of total Plate Appearances (PA), starting with the largest, until I hit 80 per cent. To make my life easy, I'll start with the third spot, filled by Ryan Zimmerman for about 86 per cent of the total PA. First, let's see how his hitting profile matched the National League generally:

The right-hand axis is an indication of power. The closer one is to that side, the more likely one has power. The bottom axis shows batting average, the further to the left, the more runs are created through batting average. The left-hand axis is how much walks contribute to runs created. The chart shows the proportions of the average National-League batter at the various positions in the lineup. It doesn't actually tell us anything about the quantity of runs created (using Bill James' most basic formula), only how the different elements are weighted in the total.

The data is based not on Zimmerman's performance batting third, but on his totals for the year batting in all positions, and as a pinch hitter. The key thing to note here is that Ryan Zimmerman's 2009 profile is more like that of a cleanup hitter than that of a batter in the third spot. The question becomes whether the fact that he was hitting out the 'wrong' spot hurt the Nationals' ability to score runs. That's something I intend to cover in a later post, but there's food for thought here.

I see two alternatives. Either Zimmerman should be moved to the cleanup position, or one could consider the possibility that he should bat second, since he has the walk rate, but a lot more power. Sabermetric theory tells us the best hitter should bat second, to optimize his contribution in terms of getting to the plate with men on base.

It's an interesting question. Keep him where he is or move him? What would you do?

1 comment:

Brent said...

I'd keep Zimmerman at #3. First, assuming the Nats don't trade Dunn, I think they'd definitely want to leave Dunn in the cleanup spot. So for Zim that leaves the question as #2 vs. #3. I know that The Book says that the #2 slot is more valuable than #3, but that perception isn't widely held by players or the public. And the difference is pretty trivial--I think that Tango et al said it was about 1-1/2 runs per season. Why make your young, star player feel like he's getting a demotion for such a trivial payoff? Plus, who else is better suited for the #3 slot? Outside of Dunn and Zim, the Nats aren't exactly loaded with HR hitters.

The bigger issue (and the only real, fundamental problem I see with how the Nats lineup has been structured) will be getting Guzman out of the #2 (or #1) slots. A lot of outs were wasted by giving a player with a .306 OBP more than 500 plate appearances in the top two positions. With the current roster, I'd think about moving Dukes into the #2 slot. With a career .249 batting average, he isn't the prototypical #2 hitter, but he's always been good at drawing walks and his career .349 OBP is above average. Actually, maybe it might make more sense to move Dukes to #1 and Morgan, who hits for a higher average but doesn't draw as many walks, to #2.