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Quiz: Who Is Nyjer Morgan?

I wanted to see how Nyjer Morgan compared to other base-stealing leadoff men who played centerfield, had little power, didn't walk much but slapped-hit their way on base.

In part, I wanted to find this out because the stat-crabs like to nag that Morgan "isn't that good" and that Lastings Milledge will someday develop into a good enough corner outfielder that the recent Mike Rizzo trade, which helped get him the GM job, will not look good in retrospect. My intuition is that this position is idiotic. Also, since Morgan is 29, I wanted to see how long such players could remain productive.

So, here's the quiz. I found every player of the last 50 years who fit the Morgan prototype, including his hero and model Juan Pierre. I ranked them (below) by OPS, but also list their batting average, on-base-percentage and slugging percentage for their whole careers. Their career stats were also close to their peak-year stats. This type of player doesn't vary from one year to the next as much as a slugger, apparently. The only non-CF is Lou Brock, who played LF and also hit more homers than the others. But he's such a prototype leadoff speedster that I included him.

The challenge will be for you folks to match the career stats to the correct player.

FYI, Morgan, in parts of three different seasons, has played in 200 games and has 803 plate appearances -- more than enough of a sample to give us a good idea. Especially since Nyjer now gets to play every day and is bunting almost three times as often in Washington (and profiting from it). The Nats also let him steal more. He's on pace for 53 steals but said last night, "I'll steal 60 ... this year." If he stays on his current pace of one-steal-per-two-games, he will.

The players and the stats are out of order. I started from the best OPS and worked down, but the names do not go with the players beside them. Figure out (guess) which is which.

Njyer Morgan: .306-.365-.394-.759
Jacoby Ellsbury: .295-.346-.411-.757.
Lou Brock: .293-.343-.410-.753.
Brett Butler: .290-.377-.376-.753.
Juan Pierre: .305-.361-.373-.734.
Marquis Grissom: .272-.318-.415-.733.
Mickey Rivers: .295-.327-.397-.724
Scott Podsednik: .274-.338-.376-.714.
Willie Wilson: .285-.326-.376-.702.
Billy North: .261-.365-..323-.688.
Willy Taveras: .275-.321-.328-.649.
Omar Moreno: .252-.306-.343-.649.

Okay, think about it. Where would Nyjer rank among this group in career stats?

I lied.

The names are in the correct order.

Morgan has the highest OPS.

In the most important category for a leadoff man, on-base percentage, Nyjer is second in on-base-percentage behind Butler (tied with North).

All of these players have been starting centerfielders and leadoff men in the World Series. All have had 50-stolen-base seasons.

How well or poorly did they age? Brock stole 118 bases, his record, at age 35. Starting from Morgan's age of 29, Butler had 10 straight excellent seasons right through age 38 when he hit .300 with 32 steals. By and large, they play well and keep their speed well into their 30s. Nyjer has a repoutation for being in fabulous condition.

Of all these centerfielders, it is possible -- though it is too soon to say -- that Morgan has the best range in centerfield. For his career in CF (96 games), he has averaged 3.24 putouts per 9 innings, an extremely high average only approached by the most famous defensive centerfielders. None of the others is even at 3.00. It's not a pure stat. And Morgan's sample is still small. But everybody who ranks high in PO/9-IP has eventually been recognized as an exceptional CF.

In 573 games in the minors, Morgan was .293-.370-.365-.735.

Even if his current hot-hitting with the Nats moves his stats up a bit, I think that, pretty soon, baseball will realize that the Nats have a CF who is very similar to Juan Pierre.
As good? We'll see. In '03 when Pierre helped the Marlins to the world title, his line was .305-.361-.373-.734 with 65 steals. Very Nyjerish.

By Thomas Boswell  |  August 21, 2009; 12:59 PM ET
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Next: Tweets From Tracee (No Longer Live)


from previous post...

changing topics ... our good friend Felipe Lopez returns tonight. Oh, how I miss that guy. Imagine how bad this team would be if he were still moping in the clubhouse?

And just for fun, I thought how he's affected the two teams he's played for this year (DBacks and Brewers). He started the season with AZ, then was traded to MIL on 7/20.

W-L with Felipe: 39-53 .424
W-L after Felipe: 15-14 .517

W-L before Felipe: 47-45 .511
W-L with Felipe: 11-17 .393

See any trends?

Posted by: erocks33 | August 21, 2009 1:03 PM |


the teams FLop has played for are a combined 50-70. without him, they're 62-59. welcome home, FLop!

Posted by: surly_w | August 21, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). Almost DOUBLE that of the next best outfielder.

Posted by: inthestreetindustry | August 21, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

"I think that, pretty soon, baseball will realize that the Nats have a CF who is very similar to Juan Pierre."

Then you can move him to the bench by trading for Manny Ramirez!

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | August 21, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful post, Boz.

Here's to T. Plush! May he grow old with us.

Posted by: JohninMpls | August 21, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Chico -- great post! My seats are six rows back from Nyjer in front of the Red Porch (the "Plush seats"?) and I love watching this guy play... nice to see the actual numbers to back up a great first impression of our new CF!

Milledge may yet prove to be a superb major league hitter... with that kind of bat speed, even a guy with rocks in his head like Lastings will hit. But there's just no subsitute for outstanding defense in the middle of the field. Our young pitchers will be far more confident "pitching to contact" with a guy like Nyjer in CF...

Hats off to Rizzo for the find... and Chico for the info!

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Oops... guess I shoulda read the by-line.

Sorry Boz!

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

in my opinion, this kind of comparision is almost meaningless. the ONLY thing you care about your leadoff hitter doing is getting on base. that's the only thing he can control. who cares about his average or slugging? it's not germane to the discussion.

also, the comparision needs to include a discussion about defense, if you're evaluating players that fit the very narrow type-casting that Boswell presents here.

all of the players Boz cherry-picked are flawed players in one significant way or another, including Morgan. it's not like you would CHOOSE a slap-hitting speedster to play centerfield over, say, Ken Griffey or Eric Davis.

it's just that you can "get away with it" because traditional "old school" baseball says it's ok if you sacrifice offense in centerfield if the player can pay D. but all things considered, a well-rounded offensive player that can play D is better than a flawed offensive player that can play D.

so Boz wants you to pick which of these flawed players is best. but he doesn't even comapre apples to apples, because Brock, Wilson and Pierre played mostly left field and Podsednik, while terrible, plays all over the OF.

come to think of it, all Morgan has played in DC is CF, but he still doens't have as many games in center as left, where he played almost exclusively for Pitt.

Posted by: bottomfeeders10 | August 21, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Good points, Bos. But if you're going to use Brock, might as well include Rickey:
.279 .401 .419 .820

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

So what happens if the weather is bad?

Posted by: rachel216 | August 21, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

bottom, I don't agree. The leadoff hitter also hits 10th, 19th, 28th, and so on. Slugging does matter--there are RBI chances for him, too, and even leading off, it's better to be on second or third with no outs, than first. OBP may be the most important single thing, but there's more to it than any single thing.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

dang, new posted again!!

How appropriate we're talking Yount when the Brew Crew is in town. Ah, the good old days of Harvey's Wallbangers. I'll never forget the game Yount almost single handedly beat the O's to win the American League East in '82 on the last day of the season in Baltimore. Or his diving catch in center field at Memorial Stadium to perserve Juan Neives' no hitter five years later. (just in case there are any O's fans lurking)

Posted by: twinbrook | August 21, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Rachel, if the weather is bad, it will rain, probably get windy, maybe even have some lightning and thunder.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

WHO IS NYJER MORGAN? He is a throwback someone you know is going to give 110%, a player who is going to cover CF like the perverbial blanket,who will drive the opposition to distraction when he is on the basepath,who's a threat to lay down a perfect bunt(a lost art) or steal second, and then third, maybe even home!! Nyjer brings back the memory of the late Curt Flood who was an excellent CF'er and Nyjer's arm is very good and last but not least Mr. Morgan is a ballplayer, a real ballplayer.

Posted by: dargregmag | August 21, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

but that's not important now.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Curtis Charles Flood:
.293 .342 .389 .732

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

and this part has me confused.

the ONLY thing you care about your leadoff hitter doing is getting on base. that's the only thing he can control. who cares about his average or slugging? it's not germane to the discussion.
all things considered, a well-rounded offensive player that can play D is better than a flawed offensive player that can play D.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

new posted

>I love guys like Robin Yount, but he wasn't the savior for the Brewers (they made the playoffs twice in his career) much like one shouldn't pine for Harper to be the savior of the Nationals.

Posted by: erocks33

Harper's more like Chipper Jones than Yount, this kid's more developed physically than Yount was even in his late twenties. No comparison.
Oh you better believe I'll pine for him. You can take that to the bank. The same way I pined for Strasburg.

Posted by: Brue

Posted by: Brue | August 21, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Is there a link to watch Strasburg online?


Posted by: NickfromGermantown | August 21, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Go to It just came on.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | August 21, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I understood Boswell's point to be leaving out guys like Willie Mays, because Morgan isn't going to hit for power, and it isn't fair--apples to apples, as you say--to compare him to those guys.
I'm inclined to agree, though, that any list of the best CFs should include only guys who primarily played that position (which would leave out Rickey, too, btw), but include all of them. For instance,
Mays .302 .384 .557 .941
DiMaggio .325 .398 .579 .977
so Boz wants you to pick which of these flawed players is best. but he doesn't even comapre apples to apples, because Brock, Wilson and Pierre played mostly left field and Podsednik, while terrible, plays all over the OF.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and "these flawed players" -- is there any other kind?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 21, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Nice post, Boz.

Don't you think that his stat of "3.24 putouts per 9 innings" will go down as the K/inning ratio (that is, the pitching quality) of our throwers increases?

Also, @outsider6 ... "The Plush Seats" I like it! I sat there once, that's a really great section. Don't tell anyone.

Posted by: ihatewalks | August 21, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Tracee Tweets in the new post.

Posted by: NatsNut | August 21, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

it's just that you can "get away with it" because traditional "old school" baseball says it's ok if you sacrifice offense in centerfield if the player can pay D.

Posted by: bottomfeeders10

Incorrect. The traditional thinking is that CF is a power position. Virtually the only positions that haven't been considered power positions are 2B, SS and catcher. Boz is making a comparison to similar players, and it's a good one. Made me think about how Brett Butler, and how he and Nyjer can hit the ball the other way naturally and be effective. Rivers, Wilson and North all seemed to strike out too much. Taveras and Moreno had swings that were (are) too long. Grissom Posednick and Brock had more power, as well as extra base power. Ellsbury reminds me of Johnny Damon when he first came up, a little more potent with the bat than Nyjer, but he's also in a better lineup and can be more selective. Boz is right - we're looking at Juan Pierre, and as long as Morgan keeps legging out infield hits and bunts, I don't think he'll ever go into a slump the way Pierre did a couple of years ago after the Dodgers signed him. That's where the intelligence part comes in, imo. Pierre signed a big contract and pressed too hard. You just have to let the game come to you.

Posted by: Brue | August 21, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I also got a kick out of Taveras' reaction when Zimmerman threw him out on a bunt last week - he acted like he thought it was illegal or something lol.

Posted by: Brue | August 21, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Um, Twinbrook, doubtful there are many O's fans are lurking--'cept mayby Boz.

Posted by: HondoHomers | August 21, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse


This seems like such a subjective list. First you don't even make it about just Centerfielders, by including Brock, but you leave out Ricky, Tim Raines, Vince Coleman, Carl Crawford and others who didn't play the majority of their career in CF. You have Grissom who hit 20 Hr's multiple times (more than Raines or Coleman ever hit) but ignore other Cf's who have some pop. Where is Brady Anderson (his BR page has him only 10 pounds more than T-Plush) or Andy Van Slyke or Steve Finley. As for other slap hitters from CF, where are Lance Johnson and Otis Nixon, they are the definition of slap hitters with speed. How about Ichiro, I doubt many people think power when it comes to him. And the biggest name off this list is one of the best CF's in the 90's, Kenny Lofton who has a career line of .299/.372/.423 which leads to a .794 OPS (not to mention 622 SB's with an 80% success rate). All of those stats trounce anything Morgan has done.

Don't get me wrong I love Morgan and some of the guys I mentioned Morgan does have better numbers than, but my point is they are in the conversation as well. I think you need to clearly define who exactly is in Morgan's category and include that list (but don't forget an All-star like Lofton).

Posted by: Steveo11 | August 21, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Okay, it looks like my post was too long. I'm not merely cutting and pasting from some online article, so I hope it's not considered spamming to put this up in parts:


Late on the draw here, but I'll add my comments nonetheless. Harlan is adding to the lovefest for Morgan based on mostly a two-month mirage of luck-inflated hitting data. That's a shame since it will prolong Morgan's eventual lifetime in the lineup by getting fans behind him to an irrational degree. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy's attitude and it's been fun watching him disproportionately hit-em-where-they-ain't for two months. And his base stealing, completely worthless though it is in terms of producing wins, is visually fun to watch. I guess that has some entertainment value in terms of on-field product in a spectator sport.

But make no mistake, Morgan's *only* contribution to this team going forward will be his splendid glove (along with some hard-to-quantify baserunning advantage). He is going to make one heck of a late-inning defensive replacement for the Nats when their next contending team graces the field. Whether that will have been worth trading a 24-year-old 5-tool talent and a live (but erratic) arm to a fellow rebuilding team (but one that actually knew what phase of the organizational life cycle they were in!) will of course depend on how much Milledge and Hanrahan put it all together. But they will have to flop completely in order for this trade to simply be a wash.


Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

(Continued, from one of the "stat-crabs"!)

I'll reiterate something I wrote in the comments for the Rizzo articles last night. A site called The Hardball Times cranks out an ongoing statistic called "predicted average". Most serious fans are already aware of the luck that can go into distorting an ERA: the pitcher coaxes more than his share of "atom" balls over a short time span (or even a full season). Well, somebody is hitting those balls as well. And they are either landing in grass or gloves, and sometimes there are large deviations from normal in that result over relatively small samples of at bats. THT tells us, based on the line drives, ground balls, fly balls and strikeouts accomplished by the player, what he should have hit during the period of time with typical (ie not good or bad) luck. They do this for both batting average (PrAVE) and OPS (PrOPS).

Last year in 168 AB, Morgan's PrAVE was .272 and his PrOPS was .667. This year with the Pirates those numbers were .270 and .706. This year with the Nats, .279 and .689. The hot streak since his arrival here has been fun to see in the same way that seeing water in the desert is fun when your throat is parched. This is not a productive major league starting player. And gleefully comparing him to the Juan Pierres of the world is a depressing standard to reach for. I realize some here still long for the "grit-and-character" days of the deadball era, but wasting a potential offensive spot in the lineup is not a route to a winning team these days. Trust me, you don't want a Ned Colletti emulator assemblying this team. Or Brian Sabean, whose ongoing strive-for-.500 model the early observations on Rizzo seem to suggest.

That said, I was impressed with how Rizzo handled the Strasburg signing, and I will take at face value the DC media's representation of Rizzo's abilities to assess talent in a vacuum. I just question his strategic/assembly approach to turning a cellar-dwellar into an *eventual* (talking 2011 and beyond) contender. Nothing he has done so far indicates that he knows what he needs to do. Neal Huntington of the Pirates does.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Seems like o lot of those contrarians in here might be missing Boz's point. If we're even discussing Nyjer Morgan in the same breath as Lou Brock, Juan Pierre, et al, then Rizzo's trade is already a winner. Boz isn't saying Nyjer's going to the Hall of Fame... he's saying we got something more than people realize. Ge's saying that even if Milledge does, someday, pull his head out of his backside and develop into a major leaguer the Nats did great in this trade.

The list he compared against certainly left some big names out; that's the point. Nyjer doesn't have to be Rickey Henderson or Kenny Lofton for this move to be a huge success. He's just got to be a valuable cog in the wheel. Boz's numbers suggest he will be...

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Tris Speaker finally won the regular starting center fielder's job in 1909 from the light hitting Denny Sullivan who ended up getting sold to the Cleveland Naps. The gamble paid off for the Red Sox when Speaker hit .309 in 143 games and the team finished third in the pennant race.

In 1910 the Red Sox signed Duffy Lewis (LF). Along with Speaker and Harry Hooper (RF) they would form Boston’s “Million-Dollar Outfield”, one of the finest outfield trios in baseball history. The outfield was broken up when Speaker was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1916.

The Boston Red Sox finished second to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, with the formidable pitching trio of Jack Coombs, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, the following two years.

Speaker’s best season came in 1912. The Red Sox opened the newly built Fenway Park on April 20, 1912. Speaker played in every one of the Red Sox' 153 games, leading the American League in doubles with 53, and home runs with 10. He set a career high with 222 hits, 136 runs, 580 at-bats, and 52 steals. He was at the top of his game. He batted .383, a mark he would surpass three times in his career, but his .567 slugging percentage was the highest of his dead ball days. Speaker set a major league record when he had three batting streaks of 20 (30, 23, 22) or more games during the season. In center field he helped the Red Sox pitching staff by stabbing line drives and throwing out greedy base runners. The Red Sox won the pennant by finishing 14 games ahead of the Washington Senators and 15 games ahead of the Philadelphia A’s.

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Tris Speaker knew adversity:

Tris Speaker was born on Wednesday, April 4, 1888 in Hubbard, Texas, to Archie and Nancy Poer Speaker. As a youth he suffered a broken right arm in a fall from a horse, and was forced to throw with his left hand. Eventually he became so comfortable with his left hand that he continued to throw southpaw after his right arm healed, which was considered a big change to his team when they practiced. In 1905 Speaker played his only year of college baseball, for Fort Worth Polytechnic Institute. His left arm was subsequently injured in a football accident, to the extent that surgeons advised amputation. Tris refused, and recovered to become one of baseball's great hitters and outfielders, as well as manager of a World Championship team, and the seventh member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Oops, I thought this was Chico Harlan's post. Sorry Mr. Boswell.

And I have to echo the thoughts of the others here. Comparing Morgan to "slap hitting outfielders" is only slightly less egregious than comparing Ron Belliard, when he would sometimes play first last year, to "similarly light-hitting first basemen".

Imagine seeing a drug ad on TV with the punch line, "Among similarly ineffective medications for psoriasis, Ineffexor was one of the more helpful medications! Ask your doctor about it today!"

One last caveat to my post on Morgan. I've looked at the THT stats for years now, and I sometimes think the correction it uses for the influence speed has on turning batted balls into hits (legging out infield hits and bunts) may not be enough. It's possible all of Morgan's PrAVE numbers are slightly depressed from what they should be. (I notice catchers often consistently have PrAVE numbers above their official averages, for instance.) But the error seems on the order of .015 or .020 at best. At most then, we are looking at a .290 hitter with no power. Juan Pierre, again.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

The indomitable will of young Speaker attracted a discerning baseball man, Doak Roberts, then owner of the Cleburne Railroaders of the Texas League in 1906. Speaker ended up batting .318 for the Railroaders. He wanted to be a professional ballplayer, but his mother opposed his being “sold into slavery.” She said she would never give her consent to her son’s going to Boston (named the Red Sox in 1907), even after he had had success in Houston. Roberts had faith that young Speaker would make the grade, and he sold the youngster to the Sox for $800 – the Red Sox scout beating the St. Louis Browns by a mere half-hour.

Speaker played in 7 games for the Red Sox in 1907 getting 3 hits in 19 at bats for a .158 average. The following year, the Red Sox traded Speaker to the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern League in exchange for use of their facilities for spring training in 1908. Speaker ended up batting .350 for the Travelers and his contract was repurchased by the Red Sox. Speaker ended up making it into 31 games and got 26 hits in 116 at bats for a .224 average.

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Nyjer Morgan seems more in the mold of a Tris Speaker as opposed to a Juan Pierre. I think I'd take Speaker over Pierre in a hearbeat.

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Morgan does need to develop more of a Ted Williams mentality when it comes to hitting: patience, more walks at the lead-off position.

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Periculum, it's spot-on that you are putting up nostalgic posts from the dead ball era. Nyjer Morgan would be a great player to have if the year were 1905. Unfortunately, it's 2009.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I think "Tony Plush" may be likened more to "Spoke".

Tristram E. Speaker (April 4, 1888 - December 8, 1958), nicknamed “Spoke” (a play on his last name) and “Grey Eagle” (for his prematurely graying hair), was an American baseball player known as one of the best offensive and defensive center fielders in history.

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"Nyjer Morgan would be a great player to have if the year were 1905. Unfortunately, it's 2009."

Small ball still works even in the "live ball" era. As shown by Morgan's antics on the base paths ... once he is on every pitcher they have faced is distracted. His "aura" apparently is "catching on". Noting how Guzman moved from 1st to 3rd to score last night. Noting Zimmerman's and Willingham's more aggressive base running.

Its the kind attitude that works to win games both in 1909 and 2009. Of this there is absolutely no doubt!

Posted by: periculum | August 21, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse


What a bunch of self-inflated malarkey! I'm sure you're a wonderful fantasy league GM... in real baseball it's about more than stats. That's why "serious fans" who read The Hardball Times are just that: fans. Evaluating talent often involves, um, SEEING the players play and evaluating temperament and character in addition to memorizing their Moneyball-type stats. There's a reason Milledge's "5 tools" are now with their 3rd MLB team.

Maybe Morgan will prove to be a late-inning replacement. Or maybe -- just maybe -- he's being utilized differently in DC and that change is impacting his performance... as Boz points out:

"FYI, Morgan, in parts of three different seasons, has played in 200 games and has 803 plate appearances -- more than enough of a sample to give us a good idea. Especially since Nyjer now gets to play every day and is bunting almost three times as often in Washington (and profiting from it). The Nats also let him steal more. He's on pace for 53 steals but said last night, "I'll steal 60 ... this year."

Will this trade pay off for the Nats? Maybe. I don't know. Neither do you. Although I don't read "THT", I think I'm a serious fan. But that's it. A fan! Which means neither one of us really has a clue compared to the folks paid to make these determinations.

Good luck in the fantasy league playoffs.

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

B2O2: PrAve presumably downgrades the chance of a groundball resulting in a hit vis-a-vis a line drive. However, Morgan is an outlier--because a substantial portion of his groundballs are bunts, he is much more likely to get a hit on a groundball than a non-bunter or poor bunter. Are you predicting that his bunting success is an aberration & his number of successful bunts will decline both absolutely and as a percentage of balls put in play? If so, what is the evidence for it? If not, it stands to reason that the predictive value of where Morgan hits the ball is less than it is for a comparable player who hits groundballs but can't bunt as proficiently.

I believe that Nyjer Morgan makes the best use of both his physical AND mental abilities in his approach at the plate. I would submit that being able to bunt successfully reflects both those characteristics and predictions of his performance based on percentages of groundballs is not as valid for him as it would be for a more conventional hitter.

Posted by: chiefwj | August 21, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Reading Boz's optimistic pieces about the team it is a wonder the Nationals are in last place! This post reminds me of the faux lineup Boz posted that stated that the Nationals had a lineup of Pedroia, Tex, Youkilis, Ruth, Mays, and Killebrew! I love stats, hell I work in the world of statistics, but you can make statistics say what you want by only including the data you wish. Rose colored glasses are for fans (and Stan Kasten) not responsible sportswriters like yourself Boz!

Posted by: you-dont | August 21, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

@you-don't: Context... Boz didn't say that was our lineup. He was talking about value strictly relating to offensive production (Dunn's offense vs. his defense doesn't put him in Texeira's company, for example). He was merely saying the current crop of Nationals, based on relative age, salary, and offensive production, are in pretty good company and that success as measured by wins may not be as far off as we think.

On the other hand, you reinforce the point I made to B2O2. Stats don't take into account intangibles. And Nyjer Morgan -- an "outlier", as Chiefwj said -- is a walking pile of intangibles!

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

So I've heard everyone say "Nyjer Morgan's just on a hitting streak, and is really a bum."

How come, then, he hit
299/359/430 in 2007,
294/345/375 in 2008, and
310/372/389 this year?

OK, his AVG is a little higher, but OBP and SLG are right in line with his major league averages. Those sample sizes weren't really big (118, 175, and 514 ABs respectively) but they weren't trivially small either.

Sounds to me like he's a consistently-OK hitter and a superb outfielder. Since he's surrounded by two superb hitters that are bad fielders, sounds like a pretty good setup to me. What's the problem???

Posted by: Section406 | August 21, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

True, but Boz leaves out defensive issues that give up runs. Offesnsively talented but defensive stiffs will not win you a lot of ballgames. And its not easy to say, "Presto" and your defensive stiffs become athletic. The guys whose lineup he put up there are ALL better players and I doubt anyone (SABR or otherwise) will disagree.

As for Morgan, he is basically Juan Pierre. A useful part for a good team but not your corner stone franchise player. Hell, I'd rather have Adam Jones (in B-more) than Morgan. Reading the love fest for Morgan its funny how fans didn't scream for Juan Pierre during the offseason.

Posted by: you-dont | August 21, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Richie Ashburn is the ultimate HOF example of the prototype Boz identifies (speedy lead-off batter/CFer, w/high OBP, low SLG, high steals, great range and glove in CF).
RF/G: 2.98 (one of best all-time percent above league average).
Led NL in OBP, singles and walks four times; steals once; hits three times.

Ya gotta love Nyjer, but he's much closer to Juan Pierre than the all-time greatest, Whitey.

Posted by: VirginiaNatsNut | August 21, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

"in my opinion, this kind of comparision is almost meaningless. the ONLY thing you care about your leadoff hitter doing is getting on base. that's the only thing he can control. who cares about his average or slugging? it's not germane to the discussion."

Now to me, that's a silly argument. The leadoff's main job is to get on base, but what's wrong with also being able to drive in runners ahead of him?

Posted by: Samson151 | August 21, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

outsider6 -

Apologies, I forgot to address Boswell's comments on the exciting 60 steals Morgan is going to rack up. They're as worthless as they are fun to see, but I didn't explain how. You see, in order to be a net positive toward actually scoring runs - you know, that geeky stathead measure that relates to actually, um, winning games? - a player has to steal at a success rate considerably above 70%. Morgan is stealing at a 70% rate. He's neither helping nor hurting the team with that facet of his game. It's a ball to watch, I agree! And also worthless, run-wise.

Your romanticism and seasoned fluency in old saws and deadball-era wisdom is noted though.

chiefwj -

There is no reason to think that THT's PrAVE systematically downgrades the chance of a groundball turning into a hit. Presumably they developed their regression coefficients from the largest relevant data set available. What is possible, and I'm unsure about it since I don't have access to their derivations, is that they don't adequately take into account speed as a nonlinear factor in the likelihood of a GB turning into a hit. Anecdotally from looking at their numbers over the years, I have noted Juan Pierre types getting cheated a bit and slowfooted catchers getting a boost in their PrAVE's, so I suspect you have to bump up Morgan's numbers some. The main point of all that was just that the .368 Morgan has hit since coming here has been *mostly* an artifact of balls falling in the right spots. To include it as a large part of the performance basis Boswell is using to indicate his value (pretending for a moment that a faithful emulation of Juan Pierre would be "valuable") is very specious.

Your point about bunting putting another confound into the THT numbers is a reasonable one. I really don't know how big a difference that makes. It seems intuitively defensible that bunting for a hit has a somewhat larger chance of resulting in a base hit than your generic ground ball, or players wouldn't keep doing it (though note that teams still do all kinds of things that are not supported by analysis, like sacrifice bunting early in the game), but I don't know what the numbers there are on that.

At best, we basically have Juan Pierre with a somewhat better glove (Pierre for all his speed isn't good defensively). That's not something to be excited about. Ned Coletti is the laughing stock of knowledgeable baseball fans for having signed Pierre to that huge contract. The guy stood in the way of the Dodgers having a real CF for parts of several years. Matt Kemp would be a household name right now if it weren't for BobbleNed's fascination with Pierre. I just hope Rizzo doesn't fall into the same trap.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

After Bowden left us without ANY centerfielder this season, I think we'd have gushed over Joe Morgan. Or Morgan Fairchild!

And not to beat a dead horse, but Boz's article on our look-alike lineup was strictly related to offense. As Morgan proves, defense makes a huge difference. As I said earlier, Dunn doesn't match up with Texeira even remotely on the defensive side... and I think Boz noted the same thing. He was simply making a point that this offense -- not the team as a whole -- was providing value as compared to cost.

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Oh geez, B2... you're one of THOSE people.

Never actually played the game but read a whole bunch about it somewhere and, thus, can apply numbers to determine an outcome.

Just wondering... how many World Series have been won applying your math in lieu of -- what did you call it? -- "romanticism and seasoned fluency in old saws and deadball-era wisdom"?

Oh, right.


But Juan Pierre has a ring.

You're a genius, pal. Now put the abacus down and have a beer!

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I just have to comment on another thing I see repeated here ad nauseum. That is that there is a certain "job" of a leadoff hitter that is entirely different from someone hitting elsewhere in the order. I know it's a tried and true saw, and a silent shiboleth to others that you are a true baseball fan if you can casually produce these "rules" in conversation at the ballpark. Unfortunately, every objective analysis that's been done on the question reveals that lineup construction is an entirely overblown concept as a recipe for success. What matters, simply, is packing the lineup with as many players with as high OPS as possible, while obviously trying to have the best defense as you can.

It turns out to matter little *how* that OPS is generated - whether the player walks and homers a lot, swings at everything but makes good contact for singles and doubles, or what. And it also doesn't matter much *where* in the lineup these guys are placed.

So the old ritualized mantras of looking for a patient slap hitter (and please! no disorienting long hits - we're purists!) for the leadoff spot, the "bat control specialist" who is skilled at dribbling balls to the second baseman but can do little else batting second, the best all around hitter third, the all-or-nothing Dave Kingman clone fourth, is pretty much a quaint leftover of the days before computers. You just want good productive offensive players, and you want the best ones higher in your lineup (they end up getting to bat more).

There are tiny marginal values to placing the OBP-heavy guys right in front of the SLG-heavy ones, but even that turns out to be surprisingly unimportant. Likewise it's nice to have the two speedy guys together back-to-back for the occasional double-steal, but that too is dwarfed by the simple rule: have productive hitters.

So getting caught up in some special value Morgan has because he has the hallowed skill of not being able to get the ball out of the infield (yay! our prototypical leadoff guy!) is a nice homage to 1900-era baseball. But it doesn't help you win.

Sorry. I realize I just spit on Ty Cobb's grave and all but that's how it is.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

"Oh geez, B2... you're one of THOSE people.

Never actually played the game but read a whole bunch about it somewhere and, thus, can apply numbers to determine an outcome. "


I'm glad medical science doesn't take your approach, or we'd throw out those worthless statistics and just go with the good old leaches and bleeding, which any grizzled vet knows is the accepted way to treat illness.

It's the same thing here, whether you want to deal with it or not. As others have alluded to, not everything is easily quantifiable. But the ones that are, we should pay attention to.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

B2: spit away. Somehow I suspect Cobb's legacy remains untarnished.

Again, your analysis lacks the benefit of first-hand knowledge. The value in patient, slap-hitting table-setters at the top of the lineup isn't just about double steals (though the ability to go first to third on a single is nice).

As a numbers guy, I'm sure you can appreicate the value of "information". Reconnaissance. Intel. The more pitches a leadoff man takes, the more information he makes available to those who follow him. When the typical pitch approaches at 90+ MPH, it helps a batter's pitch recognition immeasurably to have even the smallest insight into what pitch may be coming. Though the value in that can't be determined by one of your algorithms, it's real and it's important.

Likewise, the psychological value in seeing a "bat control specialist" fight off pitch after pitch affects both the pitcher and the offensive team. Games are won in those seemingly minor battles. Again, you can't punch that into a computer and determine its worth.

For those of us who have actually played this game, numbers -- while amusing and good for chatting at the water cooler or nearest blog -- are only a small part of the equation. And men like me who have fought actual wars can attest to the value of less tangible things like psychology and intelligence about enemy activities...

But again... you keep sticking to your numbers. Largely worthless in winning baseball games but probably quite lucrative in the real world.

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the entertainment, B2. I've got to go. Don't take my lack of reply to your next glib response as disinterest. I'll read later.

Right now I've got to go play a baseball game. You should come out and try it sometime. You'd be enlightened.

Plus you could probably tell me my batting average.

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

outsider6, your defensiveness surrounding the increasing prominence of statistics in understanding this game at a deeper level is palpable. I feel your anxiety. You also have no idea how many years I played this game as a youth. But whatever.

Your point about the value of having someone take lots of pitches (not just for gauging his movement and accustoming to his windup but also simply wearing the guy down, eventually) is right on. However it is not that much more relevant for a leadoff guy than for the other 8 men in the lineup. Patience and taking pitches is valuable in general. Where have I said otherwise?

Likewise wearing the pitcher down by fighting off pitches has value. And you clearly CAN quantify that, if you are of a mind to. One could look at whether the batting average of the following hitter is higher or lower than normal (for him) following a 10+ pitch at bat, for example.

Don't be intimidated by this stuff, outsider6. It won't bite.

Posted by: B2O2 | August 21, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

>As for Morgan, he is basically Juan Pierre. A useful part for a good team but not your corner stone franchise player. Hell, I'd rather have Adam Jones (in B-more) than Morgan.

Posted by: you-dont

All I can say is that Nationals Park is a fairly big yard and the ground you have to cover has to factor into the speed component. I played CF for Washington-Lee HS, and we didn't have a fence at our field. I made one of the most outrageous catches ever against Robinson HS on a shot that went well over 400 feet to left-center and hung up there forever. The guy on second had already scored by the time I caught it. Anyway, CF is the most crucial because it's the only position that has the game in front of it, outside the catcher. In center, you have a bead on the entire middle of the diamond. And the pitcher. It's never above a good centerfielder to tell his pitcher what his stuff looks like every once in awhile either. I could talk about centerfield all day. That's all I ever played. Get in there Boz>

Posted by: Brue | August 21, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

B2: There's no "increasing prominence of statistics in understanding this game at a deeper level". There is, however, an over-reliance on numbers that are used out of context. I don't such silliness intimidating at all.

I do think statistics -- used properly -- can reveal concrete facts. A lefty's batting average against other lefties... relevant. How a guy bats against a particular pitcher, relevant. How effective a pitcher is relative to his pitch count... relevant. There are tons of useful stats. But they are peripheral at best.

By your standards the '69 Mets shouldn't have even shown up to play the mighty O's. The '04 Red Sox, down 3 games to none and losing with 2 outs in the 9th in game 4, couldn't possibly have won the series. Bucky Dent and Aaron (F'n) Boone didn't send Red Sox nation into apoplectic fits because, after all, the numbers clearly weren't on their side.

In the end numbers are a tool... a hammer, a screw driver, a wrench. They serve a limited but useful purpose. Statistics play a role in evaluating future performance... a small one. Along with a ton of other input they form the basis for what can only be called an educated guess.

In the end, an inspired hunch often works just as well.

Posted by: outsider6 | August 21, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I have really enjoyed the debate, though at times a little heated, between outsider6 and B202. A good vigorous fight between a stathead and "I know what my eyes tell me" guy. Great fun and very informational.

But there's not a whole lot of insight that's going to come from someone who thinks that when he was playing high school center field and caught a long fly ball, "the guy on second had already scored by the time I caught it." Come on. At least learn the rules of baseball before posting in a baseball forum. You can't score before a fly ball is caught. You can't even start for home unless you tag the base AFTER the ball is caug

Posted by: Snopes1 | August 21, 2009 10:51 PM | Report abuse

As a long time Pirates' fan, I don't see all the buzz that Morgan is bringing. He is having a very good season. He had a decent season last year as well.

He is still very raw and at the age of 29, how much time does he have to learn? I would take the 24 year old Milledge any day over Morgan considering Milledge's potential and power.

Morgan takes bad routes in the outfield, doesn't really have a strong arm and makes everything up with his speed.

He also is bad at stealing bases. How come the author (who doesn't know what OPS is either) left out their stolen base percentages? I am not sure, but I am willing to bet that Morgan has the worst (or close to it) when compared to the group of players being compared. How many times does Morgan get picked off? The Pirates picked him off twice this year and he should know his former players' moves, right?

Morgan is not a plus when it comes to stealing bases. He has to be getting thrown out 30% of the time and that number goes up if you count all the times he has been picked off.

Morgan is fast, but there is more to stealing a base than just speed. Considerng the Nationals have the worst record in baseball, you don't build around a 29 year old who is just fast.

Again, give me Milledge and his potential any day over Morgan.

Posted by: Dogknot17 | August 23, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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