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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

Jacoby Ellsbury
Miguel Tejada
Evan Longoria
Mark Teixeira
Prince Fielder
Dan Uggla
Bengie Molina
A 2nd baseman.

They can't really be that good...can they?

By Thomas Boswell  |  August 11, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
 
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Next: The Nats' GM Search Narrows

Comments

Wow, Boz excellent stuff! Perhaps that is what Rizzo meant all along by that we are not rebuilding. The Nats wouldn't even need a great 2nd baseman but in the end it comes down to pitching. Just a guy who can field the position. I really hope Rizzo gets the job, I can't really fathom a reason that he won't get it...

Posted by: hleeo3 | August 11, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm, we go from possibly the worst team in modern league history to a lineup filled with All-Stars! Just because of an eight game winning streak?


(I kid because I love. Go Nats!)

Posted by: charley42 | August 11, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

hmmm...I like it. Go, Nats!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 11, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Great analysis Boz!

We shouldn't get carried away, but that is a competitive lineup.

Why not make a run at Jon Lackey rather than a 10-10 starter? It would be an uphill struggle to get him, but if we've got SS, a bunch of solid young pitchers, and a above average offense, its very plausible to make the argument that this is a team on the upswing and Lackey could lead the line.

The Nats have a lot of dead salary coming off the books for 2010, so even with Strasburg's millions, they should have the money to spend on Lackey plus bullpen help. AG would be fine in that lineup at 2b.

Posted by: natshopemonger | August 11, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Ive never understood the Posts (I mean Boz') infatuation with Markakis. Hands down Zim is WAY more valuable defensively and on offense Zim's showing he's above Markakis.

So sick of anything and everything oriole related.

Posted by: Redskins2Win | August 11, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Maybe yes, they are that good ... Boz. Unfortunately, Chico let the cat out of the bag. What they are doing now is totally unprecedented.

People like to compare this team to the Mets. First half likened to one Mets team. The 2nd half looks a whole heck of a lot better than the '69 team that rolled into the series and won.

Just the pitching has yet to mature enough to match Seaver, Koosman, Gentry and Nolan Ryan with Tug McGraw closing.

Posted by: periculum | August 11, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

And there are still 2 months left and these guys appear to get better with every inning played.

Posted by: periculum | August 11, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I just wrote a really long post about why the analysis above regarding Dunn v. Teixeira is incomplete. I did not use any profanity or say anything remotely inappropriate. I simply pointed out how Boswell's analysis above is incomplete, and a responsible journalists should not leave out Dunn's flaws. The post was blocked by the WaPo webmasters.

Short version: Dunn strikes out A TON more than Teixeira. Dunn costs the Nats 40 runs in the field. Tex costs the yankees 0 runs. If your going to look at value and comparisons, look at the total game, not just deceptively chosen stats.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | August 11, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Boz! That analysis was fantastic. I don't know how long we can keep this up, but I am one excited fan. GO NATS!

Posted by: susandea | August 11, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Fascinating analysis. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this keeps up? In the meantime, I am hugely enjoying watching these guys, both in the Park and on TV. Go Nats!

Posted by: NatsFly | August 11, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

A couple of months ago I was reading that the O's were way ahead of the Nats, not so. Sign Dunn to a long term deal and keep him at first base where he'll improve as he plays, Flores behind the plate, Josh in left, Nijer in Center and Dukes in right. Zimm at 3rd, all the young arms on the way and we look pretty solid for a couple of years.......at least as good as the AL East team up the road. Add a dash of middle infielders and I like what I see.

Posted by: yodude1 | August 11, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Are the Nationals that good? Well if they only batted and had a league average team field and pitch then I could see them possibly make a run at .500 or if things broke right a Wild Card birth. Oh that pesky defense.

Cheeseburger said it already, but the fact that Boswell is comparing Dunn favorably to Teixeira makes the rest of his analysis extremely suspect. And here's a better comparison of Guzman and Tejada: This year one has an OPS+ 113 and the other an OPS+ 102. Guess which one is almost exactly a league average hitter who is a slightly below average fielder at best. Hint: It's not Tejada.

Posted by: noahthek | August 11, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

cheesburger53: "Dunn costs the Nats 40 runs in the field."
=====================================================
Compared to whom? Compared to a Nyjer Morgan? or compared to a Manny Ramirez?

Please show your math that demonstrates the above. Because your conclusion assumes that Dunn has made at least 40 errors or other misplays that allowed a runner to reach base or advance, who then went on to score, and who would not have otherwise scored if a Manny Ramirez had been patrolling left field.

I don't believe you can show that.

Posted by: gilbertbp | August 11, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Adding to the above. The Nats have allowed 607 runs this year. You are claiming that Dunn is responsible for 7% of all the runs the Nats have allowed. That's nonsense.

Posted by: gilbertbp | August 11, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

So the glass may be slightly modre half full than half empty. Dunn in left field may cost the NATS some runs, however at first base so far so good. Pitching killed he NATS in the first half and it is the difference in this half so far.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | August 11, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Makes you wonder how in the name of all things Acta this team managed a sub .300 win pct most of the year. Even with bargain basement pitching this should be a .400 team, at worst.

Posted by: RickFelt | August 11, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Positive Mental Attitude with the belief of succeeding as team.

I had to rewind twice to see if that really was Zim smiling at Elijah Dukes and giving him a forearm bump.

I saw guys before playing for themselves and now I see a team playing as one.

Willingham is your perfect example who has gone from solo HRs to Grand Slams and 2 run HRs. Now if they can get the starting pitching going, the skies the limit.


You can take all those great offensive stats and put them alone on an island and they mean nothing but combine them with the timing giving you runs scored which is the key and then the island becomes a Town---NatsTown.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | August 11, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

please no more 10-10 career guys like Tim Redding or Odalis Perez, better off putting the money elsewhere and letting younger guys develop

Posted by: TGT11 | August 11, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Nice observation about Longoria and Zimmerman.

Go to fangraphs and you'll see that EL and RZ are on top in terms of value or wins (using offense, defense, playing time normalized over a full year) and ahead of all other 3d basemen by almost a win. Mark Reynolds and Youk are next, but Reynolds is one dimentional and Youk is hit defensively because he has spent so much time at 1B, a less valuable defensive position. Longoria and Zimmerman are about 2 wins better than Figgins, the next 3B on the list.
http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=3b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=6&season=2009&month=0

I don't buy the Dunn / Teixeira comparison due to defense.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | August 11, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Gilbertbp - it may be closer to 27 runs in comparison to a league average fielder, per UZR/150, which you can find on Fangraphs.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | August 11, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Boz,

Just wondering - if you do check the comments - on your take on signing a slick fielding SS rather than 2B. Moving Guzman to second and getting a great fielder in one of the most important (and difficult) defensive positions makes more sense to me...

Posted by: CharlieF | August 11, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Another note about Dunn: It appears (based on the last few weeks at least) that he is a much better 1st baseman than an outfielder. I think if we can keep playing him at 1st, he's a keeper.

Posted by: kjhealey | August 11, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"Compared to whom? Compared to a Nyjer Morgan? or compared to a Manny Ramirez? "

Posted by: gilbertbp
-----

The 42 runs is compared to the MLB-average first basemen. It's the UZR statistic. So that includes every inning of defensive 1B played in MLB in 2009. From the very good (like Pujols) to average (like Texeira this year) to the very poor (Dunn). You can check out the fielding stats I used at www.fangraphs.com. If you click the glossary for an explanation of UZR and UZR/150.

This stat does not limit it to "mistakes" he makes, but also lack of ability. "UZR (ultimate zone rating): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined."
-http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/glossary/
(This address also has links to more details about the UZR stat. They explain their stats better than I can)

Dunn has only cost 7 actual runs at first base so far this season, since he's only played 20 games tehre (this number is reflected in UZR at fangraphs). His UZR/150 at 1B is -42, meaning that based on his performance you can estimate he would cost 42 runs that an average MLB player would prevent over the course of playing 150 games.

Dunn's stats in the OF from this season are not quite so bad. He only cost 12 runs during 62 games played in LF (that estimates to 24 runs over a season), and 7.4 runs in 22 games in RF (estimates to 34 runs over a season). I offered his 1B numbers because the comparison above was made to a first baseman, and Dunn is the full-time 1B now.

If you disagree with my choice of stats, that is fine, but my point still stands. Boz selected only statistics that paint Dunn in a favorable light, and then made asserted a conclusion about his overall value. To truly view Dunn's total value, or to compare it to Teixeira's total value, you have to look at his whole performance, not just the numbers that make Dunn look good. Maybe you have a better defensive measurement than I do, or maybe you don't think that there are strong defensive stats now (and that's fine) but you cannot simply ignore the defensive part of the game when discussing and/or comparing total value.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | August 11, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Ok - so you're stats totally negate my statement. Go figure.

Posted by: kjhealey | August 11, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

@cheeseburger: One problem with your assertions. Whereas Boz's analysis is based on fact -- actual events that have occurred -- yours are based on speculation and supposition. The problem with projected stats such as UZR is they are merely theoretical and completely overlook the possibility that a player can get hot and exceed expectations.

Don't get me wrong, I've watched from section 100 as Dunn has butchered numerous fly balls hit his way. But Boz's point was improvement -- significant improvement -- may not be as far off as the DC faithful have feared. If, using the concrete stats Boz supplied, we replaced the names of our 2010 Opening Day lineup with their statistical peers, who among us wouldn't be excited?

Posted by: outsider6 | August 11, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

And the manager? Need someone other than Riggelman.

Posted by: JohnnyU2Berry | August 11, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

But Boz, the other week you said blow up the team, they're a collection of parts less than their sum that intrinsically can't function well together (and I don't think eliminating Johnson and Hernandez would radically change this, although the addition of Morgan might)...So which is it between individual ability and a complementary team? As an erstwhile Manny supporter, I have to say that right now, the evidence points toward ability being ability, so long as it gets used and directed in an advantageous way.

Curious that all the previous thread commentary on the Guzman non-trade didn't bring up the possibility of him staying and eventually switching to 2B if we can add a worthy SS...

Posted by: evanescent_panoply | August 12, 2009 2:54 AM | Report abuse

Let's get some perspective about Nyjer Morgan. He's definitely a superb defensive center fielder, but his offense is well below average. His current OPS is .758, which places him 20th among MLB center fielders with 200 or more at-bats. That does make him comparable to Bourn and Ellsbury (who are 19th and 21st in OPS), but it's still not very good. Plus, Morgan's stolen base record cannot be assessed without looking at the number of times he's been caught stealing. Most sabermetric studies show that unless you have a success rate of at least 75-80%, base stealing is a negative for your team. Ellsbury with an 86.7% success rate (52 steals & 8 caught steals) and Bourn with an 80.7% success rate (42 SB & 10 CS) are clearly helping their clubs. Morgan, however, with a success rate of only 70.3% (38 SB, 16 CS) is only marginally helpful when he attempts to steal and may actually have hurt the Pirates and Nationals in this area.

Posted by: Snopes1 | August 12, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

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