Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Meet the Nats: Center Field

When the Royals, Tigers and Mets all give up on you, you probably shouldn’t be playing center field. But, in the case of the Nationals, you give Endy Chavez two full seasons of proving you can’t hit or field.

In fairness, last year wasn’t too bad for Chavez. He had numbers that would make Cristian Guzman jealous: .277/ .318/ .371. For his career, the soon-to-be 27-year old has hit .264/ .303/ .365 in four seasons worth of playing time. He’s simply a slap hitter, a Jason Tyner on steroids. He’ll slap the ball on the ground and try and use his speed to get on base; last year 60% of his at-bats resulted in a ground ball. He rarely walks (just 30 last year) and, as a result, makes a huge number of outs for the amount of production he’s providing.

Baseball Prospectus places his EQA at .244 last year after a season of just .224 before. They also tab him as just 2-2.5 wins above replacement level each year.

Defensively, he’s an average centerfielder. His natural speed should allow him to cover lots of ground in center, but none of the defensive stats really bear that out--they all paint him as average. Again, there’s certainly value in being average, especially at a position like center field. He has nine outfield assists each of the last two years, indicating he has a decent arm in center. He’s certainly not Bernie Williams.

Of the regulars on the team, only Brad Wilkerson and Juan Rivera saw playing time in center. I’m not sure if either of those two is up to playing the position defensively on a full-time basis, but both would be huge upgrades offensively.

With Bowden’s public pronouncement of the need for a big bat in right and the flirtation with Jose Guillen, Rivera might get an extended look in center, particularly as a platoon partner with Chavez. Termel Sledge saw a few games in the field, but I think he’d be one of their last options.

Center field definitely won’t be the strength of this club. There aren’t any viable short-term solutions on the free market either--at least any that would present a large enough upgrade to be worth the price. We’ll have to see what happens and develops among the mini-glut of outfielders. Hopefully their performance will sort them out.

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