WE WANT ELIJAH DUKES!! Who Belongs In the Washington Nationals' Outfield?

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MLB.com's Bill Ladson is back with another edition of, "Inbox: What is the best outfield trio", where Mr. Ladson answers a question about the best possible outfield alignment for the Washington Nationals by throwing the questioner a curve and saying that instead of the Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns outfield that this fan suggests, Mr. Ladson would like to see Adam Dunn and:

"(Justin) Maxwell and Roger Bernadina as the other outfielders. I've often said this, I want to see Washington play the kids." 

Mr. Ladson* goes on to say that he knows the Nationals' braintrust, President Stan Kasten, acting General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Manny Acta, thinks differently, but in his opinion, "...Maxwell and Bernadina are ready. They are better than some of the outfielders the Nationals have now."

(ed. note - "Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham...Which of these outfielders do you think Maxwell or Bernadina is better than? I have my own guess at to which outfielder(s?) Mr. Ladson means...You?)

DC's OF Situation...

Anyone who's been reading Federal Baseball.com all winter knows that I had Elijah Dukes pencilled in as the Nationals' starting right fielder, (though I always allowed for the fact the Austin Kearns' defense alone could win him the job), but after the last few seasons watching Kearns, I could never have been convinced that it would've been Kearns' bat that earned him the Opening Day spot in right field. 

USA Today MLB Fantasy writer Steve Gardner , in an article entitled, "Take spring numbers with a grain of salt", puts the numbers behind DC Manager Manny Acta's decision to go with Kearns over Dukes in right, writing in the April 8-14, '09 newsstand edition of the USA TODAY Sports Weekly supplement that while it's acknowledged that Spring Training games, "don't mean anything", there are reasons that,"...they still keep score." :

"For instance, the Washington Nationals conducted an open competition for their starting right field job-- and even though Elijah Dukes is considerably more talented than Austin Kearns, his .212 average and .327 slugging percentage were nowhere close to Kearns' .279 and .581. So Kearns begins the season as the starter and Dukes finds himself scrounging for leftover at-bats." 

(ed. note - "Dukes vs Milledge? If you go by Mr. Gardner's standard of AVG. and SLG., as deciding factors, even at .212 AVG, and .327 SLG, Dukes had Lastings Milledge beat for the center field job, based solely on Spring Training stats, with Milledge posting a, (.205 AVG and a .288 SLG, with a .256 OBP, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 walks, 2 SB and 14 K's in 23 games and 73 at bats)...Dukes' complete Spring output? (.212 AVG, .327 SLG, .353 OBP, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI's in 19 games and 52 at bats). So why was Milledge given the starting spot in center?...)

The ROTOWIRE Analysis from FANGRAPHS.com (dated 4/4/09) has a note about Kearns beating out Dukes, which states that:

"Kearns clearly outplayed Dukes this spring, out-OPS'ing him 1.017 to .632. Dukes also struck out twice as much (22 to 10). Its unclear how long Kearns will own the right field job, but Dukes will be the No. 2 at all three outfield spots until he gets starting time." 

In a 4/4/09 FANGRAPHS.com article by Dave Cameron entitled, "Kicking Hope in the Groin", written on Opening Day, Mr. Cameron looks around the Majors and notes how it's a, "...day full optimism for everyone -- the teams who were bad last year offering up reasons why this year will be different.":

"Except in Washington, where it's apparently more of the same...Elijah Dukes, the best player on the team, is not in the line-up today. He's not injured. He's not being punished for an off the field transgression. He just had a bad spring..."

Back in a November 9, 2008 article by David Golebiewski entitled, "Elijah Dukes' Breakout Prophecy", in FANGRAPHS.com's RotoGraphs section, Mr. Golebiewski argued that, "Elijah Dukes has the skills to establish himself as a breakout star in 2009" and Mr Golebiewski writes that Dukes':

"...plate discipline is pretty refined for a guy who's just 24, as he swung at just 20.34% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone. The strikeout rate was very high and figures to remain so in the future (his contact percentage was 70.38% and his minor league K% was 24.4), but Dukes possesses the secondary skills (walks and power) to compensate for a batting average in the .250-.260 range. Great on-base skills, power and 10-20 steals to boot? That's a pretty valuable player."

How valuable? Mr. Golebiewski's colleague, Mr. Cameron, calculated just how valuable Dukes could be to the DC lineup in his article, "Kicking Hope in the Groin", writing:

"Dukes had a .382 wOBA last year to go along with a UZR/150 of +13.7. In about 60% of a season’s worth of playing time, he was worth 2.9 wins to the Nationals, which put him on a +5 win pace over a full season. Five win players go to the all-star game, sign really big contracts, and become heroes to their fans."

The Washington Nationals need a hero. Elijah Dukes needs to start.

FANGRAPHS.com: Elijah Dukes' Stats.

FANGRAPHS.com: Lastings Milledge's Stats.

(ed. note - " * = While the Nationals had the day off on Thursday, the franchise's Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, New York had their Opening Day with DC-(or DCMR)-starter-to-be, Jordan Zimmerman(n) on the mound and two-thirds of Mr. Ladson's outfield in the lineup for the Chiefs against the Rochester Red Wings...Bernadina was 1 for 5 with 3 K's. Maxwell was hitless in 5 AB's. Kory Casto? The Last Cut? 4 for 4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI's. Jordan Zimmerman(n)? In his first start above Double-A? 

Zimmerman(n)'s Line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K's, 2 HR, 84 pitches, 59 strikes, GO/FO - 7/5.)

The Chief's lost the game, 7-4 final. Jason Bergmann (BS) Gary Glover (L).

Jordan Zimmermann's first MLB start is scheduled for April 19th, 2009 against the the Florida Marlins. 

Tonight: Washington at Atlanta. Shairon Martis (0-0) vs Derek Lowe. 7:30 pm EST from Turner Field in Atlanta, GA. Martis' 1st start of '09? Can the youngest pitcher on the Nationals' staff show the rest how it's done? Can the Nationals avoid losing 4-straight to start the season? 

Who's Watching The Nationals? (Game Thread will be up this afternoon.)

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