PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–APRIL 2016

At first glance, the Nationals outfield in 2016 should be one of their strengths.  You’re led into that sense of security seeing Bryce Harper in right field everyday.  As long as he doesn’t injure a hamstring or get hit by lightning, the reigning National League MVP is the foundation this outfield and batting order will be built upon.  And even with a lightning strike, Harper would probably be able to still play 3 to 4 days a week.  After that?  A group of players that could potentially deliver or disappoint.  The difference betwwen delivery and disappointment could very well determine the Nats 2016 destiny.

To say left field was a disappointment last year would be an understatment:  the position ranked 24th in the Majors in OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) after being in the middle of the pack the previous season.  Even Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman had their turns.  Jayson Werth’s transition from across the outfield was much more difficult than originally anticipated–and can you blame him?  Werth played 80% of his games in the field during his career in right…and shoulder surgery prevented him from getting used to playing left field in spring training last March.  Werth’s production at the plate did not justify his fielding issues: Werth’s batting average, on base percentage and slugging were his lowest this decade.

At age 37, does Werth have what it takes to produce at the level major league teams need from that position?  He’s hit more than 20 homers just once since coming to DC as a free agent, and even hitting sixth he’ll be expected to produce something.  If he does, then we simply move along to more pressing matters.  If not, there’s a situation to deal with.

The viable option is on the roster and in the form of Michael A. Taylor.  He actually played more games (96 to 38) in center field than left last season…and this spring the 25-year old has been on fire.  Granted, it’s only March-but Taylor hit .455 with 4 HR and 15 RBI over 17 Grapefruit League games.  He’s a much better defensive option in left field…and you could actually make the case for Taylor starting in center over Ben Revere.  Can he limit his strikeouts (158 last year, 30.9% of plate appearances) this year?  Taylor already appears to be the smart choice for late-inning defensive substitutions.  If he continues his hot spring into April Taylor may force his way into more at-bats, and not just as a sporadic fill-in.

So…if Taylor remains on a tear, what do you do with Werth?  There’s the matter of the 21+ million dollars he’s making this year and next…and the fact that he is a clubhouse leader.  How can you justify cutting the second largest checks on the team for the next two seasons to a part-time player?  And how can you be a clubhouse leader when you’re only playing once or twice a week?  Do you have him learn first base one year after things went so well in the transition to left?

There’s also the matter of Ben Revere settling in at centerfield.  He’s hit leadoff all spring training…hitting .368 but with no walks (yes, it’s only March…but no walks in 14 games?)Revere’s previously led the National League in hits (184 in 2014) and even though this strikeout to walk ratio last year was less than ideal (32/64), Revere has the necessary motor (44 steals per 162 games played at an 80% success rate) managers like Dusty Baker prefer.  It’s also true looking at different defensive numbers (BIS defensive runs saved, total fielding runs above average) that Revere is better is left.  His best defensive numbers are actually in right…but I think the Nats are set there.  Unless lightning strikes…

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