Comparing Nats Lineup to Better-Known Stars
In my column on the Nats, now up on The Post Web site, I mentioned how similar the statistics of members of the current Washington lineup are to the numbers -- either this season, full career or both -- of far more highly regarded or better-known players on other teams.
The most obvious is Adam Dunn vs. Mark Teixeira. The Nats bid $188 million for nine years for Teixeira. The Yanks got him for $180 million for eight years. (And a pinstripe uniform.) Dunn signed for $20 million for two years. So far, what a bargain.
Dunn: 384 at-bats, 30 homers, 84 RBI, .409 OBP, .576 slugging average, .281 batting average and 83 walks. His career OPS is .907.
Teixeira: 430 at-bats, 29 homers, 83 RBI, .382-.560-.286 and 60 walks. Career OPS: .921.
The Yanks want Teixeira for seven more seasons. The Nats could have signed Dunn for three years and maybe four, according to sources, but didn't bite and got him for only two. Dunn is just six months older.
Ryan Zimmerman's breakout season has put him in the same category with '09 all-star and '08 World Seres standout Evan Longoria of the Rays. Ryan may have, at least for now, put him above the Orioles' face-of-the-franchise Nick Markakis, who seems stuck at the 20-homer-a-year level while Z'man may be headed above 30. Markasis got a bigger contract -- $60 million for six years vs. Zimmerman's $45 million for five years. But Zimmerman's OPS has jumped 100 points this season and his great defense at third base, even including his occassional blood-curdling throwing errors, is inherently more valuable than great defense by a rightfielder.
Zimmerman: 432 at-bats, 85 runs, 24 homers, 75 RBI, .372-.537-.306. Career OPS: .824.
Longoria: 398 at-bats, 64 runs, 24 homers, 83 RBI, .363-.533-..274. Career OPS: .884.
Willingham is the biggest shock. I've viewed him higher than almost anybody, pointing out that he had a higher career OPS entering this season than 20 starting LFers on Opening Day. He couldn't even get on the field for the Nats. Manny saw the story and said he'd been revealuating him higher the more he saw him. But I was still wrong. Way wrong. I never looked at Josh's minor league stats. They are staggering. He was trapped behind the young Marlin talent that won the '03 World Series. In the bushes, Willingham played LF, catcher, third base and could have gone to first base. Ahead of him at those positions: Miguel Cabrera, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee. Wow. So his whole trip through the minors was delayed by about two seaons. Players who never crack an everyday MLB lineup until they are 27, like Willingham, never get over the stigma that they "can't be that good." But it happens. Look at Wade Boggs.
In '02-03 in the minors, Willingham combined for 643 at-bats, 136 runs, 35 homers, 120 RBI, 123 walks, 25 HBP and a .275 average with an OPS of .927. In '04-05, in the high minors, he combined for 566 at-bats, 138 runs, 43 homers, 131 RBI, 138 walks, 28 HBP, a .297 average, .450 on-base-percentage, a .604 slugging percentage, a 1.054 OPS and, considering all those HBPs, an incredible tolerance for pain and indifference to headhuners. Those are ted Williams, Darryl Strawberry minor league numbers.
All he's done in the big leagues is hit -- everywhere, every season. There isn't a blip anywhere in his record the last eight years, except a few injuries. But he stays on the field plenty -- more than 500 ABs in '06 and '07 and he's not hurt this year. He draws walks, works counts, gets hit by pitches, stands on top of the plate and pulls outside pitches. In his MLB career, per 565 at-bats, he's averaged 83 runs, 35 doubles, 27 homers, 88 RBI and 73 walks with a .273-.371-.492 line. And he's done it while seldom hitting Nos. 3-4-5, except recently with the Nats as he's gone ballistic, including two grand slam homers in one game. He won't stay this hot. But who does he resemble? Answer: Jason Bay of the Red Sox: career .279-.376-.514. Josh is a year younger.
For this season alone, Willingham's production, per at-bat, most resembles Prince Fielder. Josh: .420-.596-.309 and the third-highest OPS in baseball, once he gets enough plate appearances to qualify. Prince: .417-.580-.303.
Those who think Nyjer Morgan is a fluke are mistaken. In three years, he has 766 at-bats and a .302 average with every season .294 or better. And he's improving. His closest comparable this season is Boston CF Jacoby Ellsbury, though fleet Astros CF Michael Bourn matches, too.
Morgan: 416 at-bats, 66 runs, 3 homers, 36 RBI, .369-.387-.305 and 36 seals.
Ellsbury: 429 at-bats, 62 runs, 6 homers, 36 RBI, .349-.408-.302 and 50 steals.
Bourn: 408 at-bats, 70 runs, 3 homers, .359-.400-.284 and 40 steals.
Nyjer has, by a mile, the best range in center field with an off-the-charts 3.25 chances-per-nine-innings for his career in CF vs. 2.64 and 2.65 for the other two.
As for Cristian Guzman, all he's done this year is have a stat line that resembles resurgent all-star SS Miguel Tejada. In 391 at-bats, Guz is .337-.437-.317 with 93 runs produced to Tejada's .346-.458-.317 with 109 runs produced in more ABs (448).
Two other Nat comparisons appeal to me. If they play in the future as they have over the last two seasons combined, who will Jesus Flores and Elijah Dukes resemble as offensive players? They're both 25 and may get better.
Flores: 391 at-bats, 36 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 12 homers, 74 RBI and .321-.430-.269.
The average of Bengie Molina's last 10 seasons: 421 at-bats, 40 runs, 34 extra-base hits, 13 homers, 65 RBI and .307-.417-.276. Bengie makes over $6 million a year.
Dukes still seems like an undisciplined pull-happy chaser of breaking balls to me, but he's actually already reached the Dan Uggla level of production. So, maybe, bat him sixth or seventh, prod him to hit to all fields more, but basically leave him alone and take what you get.
Dukes: In '08-09 combined, 499 at-bats, 30 doubles, 20 homers, 86 RBI, 71 walks and .358-.451-.259. Last month, he hit the longest home run in the history of the Syracuse AAA ballpark. Uggla's career line: .342-.482-.257. Both strike out once every 3.8 at-bats. But Dukes is a far better RF than Uggla is at any position.
So, there you have it, enough numbers to choke a mule. If you think it's easy to find comparisons between players that are as close as these -- especially career stats -- it's not. And when you do find them, it's almost always meaningful.
The Nats may have the worst team ERA (5.00) in the NL and the worst defense in baseball (51 percent more errors this year than the average team). But if they sign Stephen Strasburg, add two relievers over the winter and sign a 10-10 veteran free agent pitcher, then come up with a slick-fielding second baseman (or do they already have him in Alberto Gonzalez) to help Morgan and Zimmerman set a better defensive tone, then a bad team could get better in a hurry.
The Nats '10 Opening Day lineup
A 2nd baseman.
They can't really be that good...can they?
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