Now that the team has basically foiled my plans for the offseason.
SINE DUN!!!!!! SINE ANDREW!1!1
, it's time to round the roster into shape. They're fudging around the margins looking for a veteran starting pitcher to bring in, something that they really should do. Jason Jennings is the name that comes up, and he'd be perfect to add to the list of fat-bottomed players on the roster.
But I think there's one move they could make that would make a world of difference in the year coming up... a small move they could make that would make almost as large a difference in the team's runs scored / runs allowed total as my initial "Jones or Bust" plan.
Get a defensive shortstop.
First, basically ignore the bat. Just punt offense. Anything you get from the guy would be gravy. With Dmitri, Pena/Dukes and Boone on the bench, you've got a ready stable of PHers to come in late in the game should the Nats need a run or three.
Keep in mind that the Nats haven't really had great production from last year. Oh, they got some decent performance last year, especially with Guzman's hot streak, but I've written before
that that was a house of cards built on Guzman's luck with more ground balls finding holes than ever before. It's something you definitely can't bank on next year. Lopez was passable offensively there -- thanks to his one hot streak coming while playing there -- but his overall seasonal performance (.245 .308 .352) made him one of the two or three worst players at that position.
Because the offense wasn't particularly good, a drop-off with the bat isn't going to completely cripple the team. It's not like you're subtracting Albert Pujols for a glove.
But what about the defensive improvement?
First, let's establish that the Nationals shortstop defense is terrible. No, that's not quite a strong enough word. Brutal. Spirit-crush. Soul-sucking. Gouge-my-eyes-out-and-smash-my-head-through-a-plate-glass-window-inducing? Yeah, that's more like it.
By any defensive metric you want to use, Felipe Lopez is one of the worst in the league. I'm quite partial to zone rating (which measures the rate of plays made on balls hit into that fielder's area), which shows Lopez' 2007
in a group with the three worst in the league. His performance with the Nats in 2006
was worst in the league. And his performance in 2005
was well below average (thought not in the absolute worst tier).
Guzman's record isn't much better. In '05, he was in that bottom tier. And in limited PT in 2007
, he was basically tied with Lopez for ineptitude. When you consider his rustiness, the surgery to his arm/shoulder, and the decline in his foot speed, it makes sense. He ain't what he used to be. (and he never was really much of a gold glover)
In an attempt to quantify that impact, someone figured out a way to estimate runs from those range numbers, and Nats shortstops were basically about 20 runs below the average fielding NL shortstop. That number is consistent with different defensive methodology for fielders at or near the bottom of the league. It's hard to be much worse than that, because you'll get yanked. (see: Wilson, Josh)
Conversely, the best shortstops in the league are typically worth 20-30 runs above average, with 15-25 runs above average being a pretty decent target.
So if the Nats were to find a glove-first shortstop, they could conceivably find a net gain of 35-45 runs just with the glove.
That's a HUGE impact, a three to four win improvement.When I reviewed the Nats CF situation
a month ago, I tinkered around with the numbers and what kind of impact Andruw Jones could have to the team. My conclusion was that if Andruw Jones returned to 2006 form (pre-injury), it would represent about 30-40 more runs over the performance they got from Church and Logan.
My mind is still spinning around that a bit and what that implies, but it is entirely possible for the Nats to come close to equalizing the signing of a big bat just by improving the shortstop defense! And all for what's likely to be under a million bucks!
Now, of course, that's certainly easier said than done. The Royals did this a year ago when they traded for SS Tony Pena
. The guy doesn't hit, but he gets to everything between New Madrid and Lawrence. Stan Kasten's own Atlanta Braves did the same thing when they signed no-bat Rafael "Don't Call Me Ron" Belliard
, another noted defensive whiz.
The Orioles of the 1970s followed this strategy. Earl Weaver, who never met a big bat that he didn't like, carried Mark Belanger
in his lineup solely for his glove. He batted him at the bottom of the order and pinch-hit for him liberally when the game situation required it. Belanger's bat stunk, but his gold glove made up for it, making him a net asset to the team. The Nats really should adopt this strategy.
I certainly don't have the scouting knowledge of other team's farm systems to know which minor leaguer could be this team's version. But there's gotta be someone out there who can do that at the bottom of the lineup and who wouldn't cost too much in a trade. One target, if they're looking for more of a veteran, is Adam Everett
from the Astros. Can't hit, but, man, can that guy field. He's a FA at the end of the year, so he's not a long-term project, and the Astros are probably too much in love with him, but it can't hurt to kick the tires.
So punt the offense! Rely on improvements by Kearns and whoever ends up catching, as well as the potential of Pena, Dukes and Milledge to carry the offense. And sit back and watch a sweet, sweet glove make beautiful love to those batted balls. The pitchers on the mound will certainly appreciate it, making their jobs -- especially those kids we're trying to develop -- so much easier.