Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nationals Nonproliferation

With an offday to recap, the Post has an excellent article on Nook Logan, focusing on the mechanics of why he struggles so much as a switch hitter.

One scout in the article thinks he should just give up switch-hitting, but the team is reluctant because it would take away the drag bunt from the left side. The power of the bunt isn't necessarily in his ability to get one down. As we saw with a game earlier this week, where he tripled down the 1B line, it forces the infield to play in closer, disrupting the defense. In that case, Carlos Delgado, who's a butcher anyway, couldn't get to the ball that Logan slapped just to Delgado's left.

The Nats are trying to work on his swing. Unfortunately, it's a long process that they're trying to compress into the next few weeks.
"People make a lot of mistakes with young hitters when they try to switch hit," hitting coach Mitchell Page said. "They try to force them to do things. My goal right now over the next two weeks, I just want him to put the ball in play. Ultimately, you want him to hit the top half of the ball so he can drive it. But he has to feel comfortable that he can hit any pitch before we get to that point."

With as bad as our pitching is, Logan's defense is going to be critical for the team. But, as I've talked about before, the actual run impact of defense is typically overblown. There was a poster on the BPG forum, for example, who recently said that Logan's glove saves 2 or 3 runs per game. I guess that's true if the Nats only had 8 players on the field, but think about that number for a second. That'd be 400 or so runs saved per year, which clearly is in Bugs Bunny territory.

To use one metric, which is generally consistent with every other set of numbers (not necessarily the names, just their effects), I've seen, the difference between the best CF and the worst is about 30-40 runs per season. That's a huge number, for sure, and we can likely assume that Logan is one of the top defenders in the league.

Whether he's a useful player, as we all know, depends on how he does with the bat.

If Logan is batting close to .280-.300 like he did in '06 and '04, he's a useful player. Even if he doesn't walk much or hit for much (any) power, that batting average and speed on the bases make up for his meager OBP and SLG. Plus, when you factor in his defense, he's probably pretty close to a league-average centerfielder. In other words, he's not a drain in the lineup. (Nor is he really an asset.)

But, if he's not hitting that, and he's hitting the .258 he hit in '05, the season he had his most ABs, he's well below average. He needs his OPS+ (On-base + Slugging adjusted for league and park) to be in the 90 range to not hurt the team. In '05 it was just 73. (Royce Clayton's OPS+ was 73 with the Nats last year, and we know how much he sucked.)

The problem is that if you look beyond the 545 ABs he's had in the majors, there's a much longer trail of mediocrity following him. He came to the plate 2289 times in the minors and batted just .261. I suppose it's possible that Page can teach him a better approach at the plate and make improvements, but he's 27 this year. That's not ancient, but it's getting to the point where if he was going to learn it, he'd have learned it by now.

Logan's going to need to work hard, play great defense, and have a little bit of luck. If he can pull off a .290ish average, it's a great thing for the team -- especially the pitchers.

I'm a natural skeptic. Since he can't hit righties at all, my preference would be to platoon him and Church, with Chris Snelling getting the starts in left against righties. Against lefties, Snelling could go to the bench and Church, since he hits lefties passably, could slide over to left. Manny Acta could also get creative, spotting Logan against certain righties when the Nats have a flyball pitcher on the mound, or when there's a tough centerfield, like at Shea.

If Logan struggles, as he has this spring, it'll be interesting to see how the team handles it. Your guess is as good (if not better!) than mine.


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