Nationals' after-Christmas shopping
Two free agents about to make their decisions on whether to come to the Nationals could be the difference between a team that improves on its 69-93 record in 2010 or takes a step back. At a quick glance, I expect the Nationals to match their 2010 record, and maybe improve by anywhere from three to five games. If we take a stroll around the offensive positions it’s not unreasonable to think that the youngsters in the middle infield and catcher will play better this year than last. If we consider the signing of Jayson Werth a straight up swap for Josh Willingham at least for a 2010 to 2011 comparison, I’d expect Werth to be about two wins better based on their historical Wins Above Replacement. Even if the bullpen is a little bit worse than its great 2010, Washington should still reach the 70-win mark.
Of course, these optimistic projections assume the Nats fill their glaring hole at first base and find another good starting pitcher. I believe that if the Nationals do get the two players currently in their sights, first basemen Adam LaRoche and pitcher Carl Pavano, they’ll have a very good chance to win more than 75 games.
When the Nationals lost their half-hearted attempt to bring Adam Dunn back the thought was that any replacement would be a significant downgrade, but you don’t have to do too much massaging of the statistics to see that Adam LaRoche has the chance to give the Nationals just as much production. Dunn’s shortcomings in the field are well advertised. In more than one game this past season, there were rumblings that Dunn’s bad range and incorrectly played balls cost the Nationals runs and the game. LaRoche, a more natural first baseman, had a 5.2 UZR this past season, which would be a substantial upgrade over Dunn’s -3.1 UZR.
What is less often theorized is that Dunn’s all or nothing approach at the plate hurts his team when runners are on base. Dunn struck out in 35 percent of his at-bats last year and throughout his career 10 percent of the balls he does make contact with end in infield fly balls. Although LaRoche isn’t the patron saint of contact -- he struck out in a career-high 30 percent of his at-bats in 2010 -- he might end up being a small improvement over Dunn with men on base. LaRoche’s OPS+ (league adjusted, where 100 is average) with men on base was 126, while Dunn’s was slightly lower at 119. Make no mistake, Adam Dunn is a great player, but there’s a good chance that LaRoche can have nearly the same positive effect on the ball club.
The other player that could help the Nationals to their best record since their inaugural season in Washington is Carl Pavano. Often vilified, and rightfully so, for his lack of production after signing a huge contract for the Yankees in 2005, the Nationals would have been lucky to have him for his past two healthy seasons. Pavano’s 5.10 ERA in 2009 is deceptive. He would have led the Nationals that year with a 3.7 WAR (Jordan Zimmermann was the actual team leader with a 1.8 WAR). Pavano would have also been the Nationals best pitcher in terms of WAR in 2010, with a 3.2.
I’d be happy to see both players join the Nationals. Hopefully, we’ll know sometime this week.
| January 3, 2011; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Nationals, Ryan Korby | Tags: Nationals, Ryan Korby
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Posted by: gracejhenry | January 4, 2011 4:52 AM | Report abuse