Washington Nationals: The defense is HERE

I think a lot of us have been eyeing Nats' sluggers Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn a bit nervously in the field this season. Both have reputations as butchers with the glove, and Dunn is playing a new position this year.  But so far this season, we've seen the Hammer making some Willie-Harris-looking diving catches in LF, while Freddie Physical (Fizical?) has been pretty serviceable at first.  Do our lying eyes deceive us, or has there really been reasonable defensive output?  A look at the more recent UZR calculations and wins above replacement (WAR), with a few surprises (and a not-surprise) after the jump.

(Thanks to the invaluable fangraphs.com for the numbers.)

Why are we looking at UZR and WAR again?

Because for all of its flaws, noisiness, and potential inconsistency, UZR is probably the best all-around estimate of how many runs your fielding is saving or costing you versus a league-average defense.  Adding up UZR and offense into wins above replacement is an easy way to value a player's total contribution.  It's still early in the season, so take the figures with a grain of salt--the tales your lying eyes are telling you may have a grain of truth in them.  Remember, UZR/150 is a rate stat, like OBP, while WAR is a counting stat, like RBI.

Pleasant Surprises

Adam Dunn is not a terrible first baseman.  His defense is below average (-5.7 UZR/150), but it's still better than Ryan Howard's (-7.3 UZR/150).  Okay, that's only good for 11th among qualified NL 1Bs, but add in the bat and he's actually 5th in wins above replacement so far this season.

Josh Willingham is... an above-average LF?!  That's right, the Hammer's +4.0 UZR/150 is good for 6th out of 16 NL RFs with at least 100 innings played in 2010 (our old friend Lastings Milledge is 15th with -20.9....).   He's tied for 4th among NL RFs in WAR, just a hair behind Matt Holliday and nearly a full win in front of fellow NL Easters Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay.

Ian Desmond can pick it.  I know, we all believed he'd a great defender--but it actually seems to be happening!  His +18.6 UZR/150 is 3rd among NL SS, just ahead of Yunel Escobar.  His WAR ranks 5th in the NL, just behind Ryan Theriot (and behind only league-leading Hanley Ramirez [spits] in the NL East).

The RF platoon is catching the ball.  Even rolling in Cristian Guzman, the RF platoon is collectively worth 17.4 UZR/150, good for 3rd in the NL (grouping all the RFs on each team).

Unpleasant Surprises

Nyjer Morgan has been shaky in the field this year. I'm as surprised as you.  I can remember some balls he didn't cut off, one he lost in the lights, and some wild throws in, but his -20.6 UZR/150 is third from the bottom in the NL in CF.  His WAR total is barely above zero, only 9th out of 14 qualified CF.  There's still time to turn this around, but is Nyjer's aggressiveness as a defender costing the team as much as his aggressiveness on the basepaths?

Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy are below-average 2Bs. With Guz a converted SS, you'd expect better than his -9.0 UZR/150.  AK's -3.9 isn't much below league-average (he's in the middle of the pack, just behind Martin Prado), but Guz is definitely in the bottom half.  Combine that with lackluster hitting, and they both have slightly negative WAR totals.

A Pleasant Constant

Ryan Zimmerman is a plus defender. His +12.4 UZR/150 is 2nd in the NL among 3Bs with 100+ innings (behind Mark Reynolds).  In spite of having only two-thirds the playing time of most qualified NL 3Bs, he's still good for 5th in WAR, between Mark Reynolds and Pablo Sandoval.  I don't have the Web Gems count at this point.

Overall

The Nationals are a decent defensive team.  Collectively, their average UZR/150 is +3.8. That's 6th in the NL (best in the NL East!) and will be worth about three extra wins over the course of the season if they keep it up.  By comparison, last season's "circus music" defense had an average UZR/150 of  -3.3, which cost the Nationals 3 wins and was better than no one but the hapless Mets in the NL (the Mets are behind the Nats and just about tied with the Fillies in UZR so far this season).  Interestingly enough, the just-above-500 Nats are 8th in the NL in WAR (although somehow they managed to be 9th last season--I'm beginning to suspect that WAR underweights pitching relative to hitting).

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