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Right field production and the Nationals

Publicly, at least, the Nationals right-field situation is murky. Willie Harris is going to start on opening day. After that, we may see any combination of Harris, Mike Morse, Roger Bernadina, Willy Taveras, Justin Maxwell and the ghost of Del Unser. (Bonus points if you had any clue before clicking on the link.)

Manager Jim Riggleman declined to handicap the competition with specifics, understandably not wanting to ruffle the players who won't make the team. But he's got idea of who will comprise the platoon in right.

"I'm formulating in my mind what I've liked, what I've seen in some guys, some guys who have taken steps backwards," Riggleman said. "It's becoming clearer for me."

One main question, in the wake of releasing Elijah Dukes, is this: How much production will the Nationals require from their right field position? This is by no means a complete look, but hopefully it will be a good discussion starter.

Last year, right field was one of the marquee run-producing positions. Aside from first base, no position in the majors leagues was more productive, measured by OPS+:

1B 125
RF 110
LF 108
3B 101
2B 100
CF 99
SS 92
C 91

In the Nationals League, left field was barely more productive than right field, but you still needed some pop in right to remain competitive:

1B 131
LF 111
RF 110
CF 106
3B 103
2B 101
SS 96
C 92

Last year, the Nationals were below average in right. The National League average of all right fielders was .264/.339/.442 (average/on-base/slugging), good for an .881 .781 OPS. Nationals right fielders went .242/.340/.429, their .769 OPS ranking 18th in the majors. (The Nats' right fielders also had a .280 batting average on balls put in play, 27th in the majors. So that didn't help.)

Harris last season went .235/.364/.393 with a 101 OPS+. If the Nationals handed the right field position to him alone, they would be fielding a below-average right fielder in terms of offensive production, and that's not even considering how much more Harris's flaws as a hitter may be exposed if he played every day.

Morse and Bernadina seem to the most likely candidates to platoon with Harris. Here are the CHONE projections in the big three categories for all three players:

Morse: .278/.334/.452
Harris: .243/.350/.377
Bernadina: .262/.336/.376

(By the way:

Elijah Dukes: .262/.364/.446)

Morse has the best chance to become the kind of right fielder who will allow the Nationals to compete with most any team offensively. Morse, though, is also the shakiest defensive outfield candidate of the three.

It probably doesn't take much research to figure the Nationals are likely to receive below-average offensive production from right field. Like the old saying about quarterbacks: If you have three right fielders, that probably means you have none.

One last note: As I was finishing up this post, I ran across this excellent work from Fire Jim Bowden from a couple days ago regarding the right field situation.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 27, 2010; 9:10 AM ET
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I know I know Del Unser played for the Senators in
the years 68 to 71 .......or was he a Indy race car driver ...hmmmm

Posted by: CBinDC | March 27, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Interesting stuff, Adam. I tried to boost the case for the Nats by looking at Harris' numbers only against righties and Morse's against lefties and they're still way below that .881 OPS RF average.

I've pushed the idea of bringing in Jermaine Dye, but CHONE predicts a .797 OPS for him and he apparently stinks in the field these days. So he's not the answer, either.

I guess we need Joe Hardy to show up....

Posted by: baltova1 | March 27, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Not that I am against Bernadina as a player... I believe he is clearly the best defensive candidate for the position we have, which counts for something... and he is a threat on the bases... so there are positive elements to his game... but, does it really make sense to platoon two left handed hitters at a position?

As much as I'd like to see Willie, Morse and Bernadina step up and play well (and I think out of the 3, Morse is the one most likely to step up with league average type numbers because he has the best power of the 3), does anyone think they are anything more then a stopgap solution in RF at this time...

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 27, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

The ghost of Bob Allison would be another good pick.

Posted by: KenNat | March 27, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I would prefer this guy in right field:

Goose Goslin age: 23

579AB 100RUNS 199HITS 30DBLS 17TRIP 12HR 129RBI
15SB 68WALKS 29SO's

.344BA .421)BP .516SLG .937OPS

Posted by: periculum | March 27, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Sorry Adam, you've got a typo. Your MLB average RF numbers add up to .781 OPS, not .881.

That means Dukes was well above average and Harris was just barely below average. And Morse's projection is above average. Definitely changes the analysis. Things aren't quite as dire as we have have feared. But, still clearly we need an upgrade there to be a strong team.

Posted by: Avar | March 27, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

The Nats also have players well above the league average in OPS+ at their position.

Adam Dunn 144 (131 for NL 1B)
Ryan Zimmerman 133 (103 for NL 3B)
Josh Willingham 127 (111 for NL LF)

If they're 59 over average with these three positions combined, how much will it bother the team if someone like Harris underproduces offensively?

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 27, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

The team should cover part of the losses from RF with RZim at 3B, and Willingham in LF. But the underlying point that RF could be a problem is understood. From the LH side, Harris is steady, with gap power - Bernadina has no power, but gets on base. The RH possibles of Morse & Maxwell are both streaky, but can go deep when they're "on".

Harris & Morse are probably the best platoon pairing that the Nationals currently posess, as any "in-system" solution still looks to be a couple of years out.

Posted by: BinM | March 27, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The ghost of Del Unser would be spooking center field, not right. Lee Maye & Hank Allen platooned in right (and Ed Stroud as well).

Man, did he have a great '69 season, batting something like .286 while playing stellar defense. He led the league in assists and double plays for an outfielder in his rookie year ('68).

But that's from memory. Hope it's all right.

Posted by: rushfari | March 27, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Why do you give us OPS+ for the leagues and OPS for the Nats, making it impossible to compare anything except Willie Harris?

Posted by: markfromark | March 27, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

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