1/25/08 ESPN.com's Buster Olney Has Three Questions For The Washington Nationals...

     Just yesterday, espn.go.com's Buster Olney checked in with his post, "The great unknowns", in which he examined, "...the open-ended questions that face each team," with just three weeks of winter left before Major League Baseball's pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona for the much anticipated beginning of Spring Training.

     In Mr. Olney's opinion, here are the top three questions facing the:

          "Washington Nationals:

          "How will their new ballpark play, and how will it affect the
          current group of players? Who, besides Ryan Zimmerman,
          will anchor their rebuilding effort? With 600 plate
          appearances, how many homers will Wily Mo Pena hit?"

     Former National Jose Guillen was one of the players who vociferously questioned the true dimensions of RFK's home-run-hating dimensions, leading Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga to write, in an article from July 22, 2005, entitled, "Errors in the Outfield", that:

          "The debate about the fences has raged over the past few
          weeks in the Nationals' clubhouse, with players --
          particularly Castilla(Vinny) and Jose Guillen, the right
          fielder -- openly suspicious that the fences were farther
          back than they were marked."

     The walls at RFK were, in fact, incorrectly marked, 380 ft. to left center was actually 394 ft. according to Mr. Svrluga and "two Post writers" who took the time to measure, and the 380 ft. in right-center was actually 395 ft., with straight center 410 ft., the corner in left 335 ft. and right 335 ft. as well.

     The alleys in the left and right center of RFK came to be known as, "Where home runs go to die," but those same gaps in RFK allowed more than a few doubles to fall into the wide expanse of grass in the RFK outfield that made stadiums like Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia look like Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, PA.  

     The new Nationals Park's dimensions...

     Left Field 332 ft.,
     Left-Center 364 ft.,
     Left-Center (deep) 370 ft.,
     Center Field 409 ft.,
     Right-Center 377 ft.,
     Right Field 335 ft.

     That's nearly 30 ft. shorter in left center, right center, 18 ft. shorter, dead-center's only 1 ft. shorter than RFK's, with the walls in left only 3 ft. shorter and right field remaining the same 335 ft.

     While the shorter gaps might add to the home run totals of hitters like Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young, who always seem to launch homers to either side of center, and Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena who are sure to have a lot of fun pulling homers to left, the smaller outfield should also take a bite out of the 309 doubles the Nationals hit as a team in '07...(which will also be missing Ryan Church's 43 doubles, which tied him for the team lead with Zimmerman last year)...

     But am I alone in thinking the players most affected by the new park will be the Nationals' pitchers, who are going to see more of their mistakes flying out of the park instead of falling into Nook Logan's glove like they did last season, as Logan flew around center and batters were sent back to the dugout dejected and demorialized by cruel RFK?

     Mr. Olney's second question for the Nationals, "Who, besides Ryan Zimmerman, will anchor their rebuilding effort?," if limited to the '08 season, may have its answer in this Winter's trades for Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Tyler Clippard, three Major League-ready prospects who figure to be on the Nationals' '08 roster, but in the near future it's the last two year's drafts that should supply the keys to rebuiling the franchise.

     As mlb.com's Bill Ladson wrote in an article entitled, "Nats building from the ground up", at washington.nationals.mlb.com yesterday, the '07 Nationals draft class, which was named the best in baseball by Baseball America and includes:

          "...impact pitchers such as Ross Detwiler, Josh Smoker,
          Jordan Zimmermann and Jack McGeary, along with a power
          bat like Michael Burgess, will start a winning tradition in
          the nation's capital."

     Add that to the players acquired in trades '05 and '06 drafts, and the franchise is flush with fielders like Ryan Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Chris Marrero, Stephen King, Michael Burgess, Justin Maxwell, Ian Desmond, and Esmailyn Gonzalez to go along with  pitchers...Matt Chico, John Lannan, Chad Cordero, Ross Detwiler, Josh Smoker, Jordan Zimmerman, Jack McGeary, Garrett Mock, and Tyler Clippard...I think the Nationals are well on their way to being rebuilt...

     The final question for the Nationals in Buster Olney's, "The great unknowns", post..."With 600 plate appearances, how many homers will Wily Mo Pena hit?" Of Pena's 75 career home runs in 6 MLB seasons he's hit 59 of them in the National League. In 336 at bats in '04 and 311 AB's in '05, the two largest season totals of his career, Wily Mo Pena hit a combined 27 doubles, 45 HR's and collected 117 RBI's, while striking out 124 times...

     ...So...over 600 at bats, is it safe to expect 25-30 doubles, 40-45 HR's, 100 RBI's and 110-120 K's out of Pena? Will Wily Mo Pena continue to hit to the opposite field as he showed he could at the end of the '07 season? In 37 games after Pena's trade to DC, a reinvigorated Wily Mo hit 4 doubles, 8 HR's and 27 singles for 22 RBI's while striking out 36 times in 133 at bats. Coming out of the six spot in the batting order, Pena's numbers could be just what the Nationals' offense needs...let's just hope Pena's defense is good enough to keep him in the outfield in left.

     So I guess my answer to Mr. Olney's final question is...

     Wily Mo Pena will hit 40 HR's.

*Buster Olney on the Nationals Links*

espn.com's Buster Olney Blog post, "The great unknowns" (for ESPN Insiders only):

http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3209848&name=olney_buster&action=login&am p;appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fespn%2fblog%2findex%3fentryID%3d3209848%26name%3dol ney_buster

Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga's article, "Errors in the outfield", at washingtonpost.com:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/21/AR2005072102417.html

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, ""Nats building from the ground up", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080124&content_id=2354517&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

Wily Mo Pena's career stats at baseball-reference.com:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/p/penawi01.shtml

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