Mid-season report cards: position players

The A-Team (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

After taking a look at the team overall the other day, it's time to drill down (as we love to say inside the Beltway) and see how the individual players rate.  How will your favorite Nat fare on Doghouse's notoriously brutal no-curve curve (I guess that means my grades are like a hanging breaking ball)?  Here's the summary report card:

Ryan Zimmerman A+
Adam Dunn A
Josh Willingham B+
Alberto Gonzalez B-
Michael Morse C
Ian Desmond C-
Ivan Rodriguez C-
Roger Bernadina D
Adam Kennedy D
Nyjer Morgan D
Willie Harris F
Wil Nieves F

An explanation of the grading scheme and details for each player after the jump.  Stats courtesy baseball-reference and fangraphs, through games of 8/14/10--does not include Sunday's win against the D-backs, so add happy-face stickers next to Zim and Hammer.

First, a quick overview of the stats I look at:

For offense, I'll use wRC+.  It adds up everything a player can do offensively, adjusts it for ballpark effects, and compares it to league average.  Bottom line: a 100 wRC+ is a league average-hitter; higher than 100 is above average, lower than 100 is below average.  It's like OPS+, but arguably a more accurate measure of offensive output (for those who are interested: it's based on wOBA instead of OPS).

For defense, I'll use the three main "advanced" fielding metrics--I won't get into the details of how they work here, but each is an estimate of the number of runs above or below average a player's defense is worth.  They're complicated, they don't often agree, and they tend to bounce around from season to season.  Bottom line: a value of zero is league-average for all of these measures; a positive number is above average (the player is saving runs with his defense) and a negative number is below average (the player is costing runs).  They're all in runs (the counting stat versions) or runs per a season's worth of innings/games (the rate stat versions).  (For those who are interested, I look at Ultimate Zone Rating, Total Zone Rating, and Defensive Runs Saved).

Finally, I'll take a look at wins above replacement (WAR).  This is a counting stat that adds up a player's total offensive and defensive contributions in terms of games won above/below a "replacement" level player (where "replacement" is a AAAA-level player) and adjusted for position (so a 1B is expected to hit more than a SS).  Higher is better, and a zero or negative WAR means that a player probably shouldn't be on a major league roster.

And, of course, I'll also mention the more familiar stats (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, HR, etc) where they're notable.  Also, I'm only considering players who have at least 100 plate appearances and who are still on the major-league club. Enough talk--on to the grades!

Head of the Class ("A" students)

Ryan Zimmerman is undoubtedly the most valuable position player on the Nationals.  His defense is superb: the advanced metrics have him on pace to be 15-20 runs above average in the hot corner on the season (+19.8 UZR/150, +27 DRS/yr, +3 TZR/yr).  Also, his bat is a thunderstick of scoring righteousness: he's hitting 301/389/535, with 23 HR, for a wRC+ of 151. That's third in the NL, behind only Joey Votto and Albert Pujols!  Add in the defense, and his 5.5 WAR makes him the best 3B in baseball (ahead of Adrian Beltre at 5.4 and Evan Longoria at 4.5--no NL 3Bs are anywhere close).  In fact, he's the second most valuable position player in the league (only a fraction behind Votto), and the fourth most valuable player in MLB!  Zim is the real deal, believe that. Grade: A+/MVP/AS/GG/SS

Adam Dunn is also having a good year.  His defensive liabilities have been minimized by the shift to first base, where he is merely below-average with the glove (-1.2 UZR/150, -7 DRS/yr, -2 TZR/yr). Compare that to the last couple of seasons, where the "Crocodile" Dunn-Dee has been a brutal 20-30 runs below average!  And, of course, Dunn0r is smacking the heck out of the ball at the plate: 271/359/571, with 31 HR and a 146 wRC+.  That's 7th in the league.  Overall, his 3.5 WAR is 5th among NL 1Bs and on pace to be close a career season.  Grade: A

Major League Achievers ("B" students)

Josh Willingham's streakiness and balky knee have cooled him a bit since his hot start.  However, he's still batting a solid 265/388/448 with 16 HR and a 134 wRC+.  That's good for the top 20 in the NL (just behind Ryan Howard).  His fielding has also improved this year, to nearly league-average (-0.3 UZR/150, -3 DRS/yr, -13 TZR/yr).  Overall, his 2.8 WAR isn't quite all-star-worthy, but it's still top 30 in the NL and good for 5th among NL LFs.  Hang in there, Josh. Grade: B+

Alberto Gonzalez has quietly turned out to be one of the Nats' best bench players this season. He's hitting 288/316/369, for an 86 wRC+.  The fielding stats look a little crazy because of his limited playing time, but they like him a lot (+38 TZR/yr, +26 DRS/yr, +44.6 UZR/150).  We can't really say he's twice the fielder Zimmy is, but he's a solid defensive performer and a decent, if below-average, bat.  And 0.7 WAR in only 220 innings and 118 PA is pretty good. Grade: B-

Gentleman Ballplayers ("C" students)

Mike Michael Morse is hitting 285/326/508 with 8 HR and a 123 wRC+, in addition to leading the club that's made for you and me.  That's edging on acceptable for a corner outfielder, and it's certainly decent for a bench bat.  Defense is not Morse's strong point, however, with -2 TZR/yr, 0 DRS/yr and -29.5 UZR/150 on the advanced stats.  He's managed to rack up 0.4 WAR in only 138 PA and 236 innings, which is close to okay .  Let's hope he can keep hitting with more regular playing time.  Grade: C

Ian Desmond has struggled a bit since the first quarter.  However, he's still hitting 265/300/412 with 9 HR and a 92 wRC+.  That's a bit below average, but not terrible for a shortstop.  Despite all the errors (27), he's only slightly below average by the advanced stats (-5.9 UZR/150, -2 TZR/yr, -1 DRS/yr).  His 1.0 WAR to date lags the field in the NL among SS, but he's still a rookie.  Grade: C-

Ivan Rodriguez has cooled considerably since his torrid first quarter, now batting 274/297/355, with 2 HR and a 73 wRC+.  Catcher defense is tricky, but he has 37% CS (vs the league average of 29%), +8 TRZ/yr and -7 DRS/yr.  He's still solid behind the dish, but the colder bat and league-leading 21 GDPs drag him down.  His 0.8 WAR in regular playing time (312 PA in 654 innings) is close to a D, but he gets a C because I think WAR underrates catchers.  Grade: C-

Underachievers ("D" students)

Roger Bernadina, with his recent improvements at the plate, is hitting 269/328/415 with 7 HR and a 104 wRC+. That's good for a CF, but not a RF, which is where Bernie's been playing most of the season. The advanced fielding metrics are actually a little down on him: -9 TZR/yr, -4 DRS/yr, and -13.0 UZR/150.  His 0.4 WAR has come in platoon-limited playing time, and I'm hopeful for the future with Bernie, but we haven't seen it over a whole season yet.  Grade: D

Adam Kennedy has been hitting 246/325/340, with 3 HR and an 89 wRC+.  That'd be decent for an elite glove man, but the defensive metrics have him at a slightly-below-league-average -3.8 UZR/150, 0 TZR/yr, and -6 DRS/yr.  He's only managed to log 0.4 WAR in 281 PA and 580 innings. Grade: D

Nyjer Morgan hasn't delivered on last season's promise.  He's hitting 261/322/322, for a 79 RC+.  That OBP is low for a leadoff hitter, and his 29 SB with a league-leading 14 CS (for a 67% success rate) doesn't help, either.  At least his fielding has improved, after a rocky start.  He's now up to almost league-average, with -16 TZR/yr, 0 DRS/yr, and -1.2 UZR/150.  His 0.4 WAR is positive, at least.  Grade: D

NeoSyracusians ("F" students)

Willie Harris is not so amazing this season, hitting 176/281/327, for a 66 wRC+.  His normally-excellent fielding hasn't shown up in the numbers this year, as he's logged a league-average +1.8 UZR/150, +2 TZR/yr, and -4 DRS/yr.  Much as I've always liked TAWH, that -0.2 WAR in only 291 innings doesn't even qualify as bench-worthy.  Grade: F

Wil Nieves has hit an unimpressive 190/222/277, with 2 HR and a 28 wRC+ (by comparison, Craig Stammen's wRC+ is 57).  The defensive stats give him +3 TZR/yr and +10 DRS/yr, which frankly surprised me--he only has a below-average 26% CS.  Still, we're left with (at best) average defense and an extra pitcher in the lineup.  He'd managed to rack up -0.5 WAR in only 350 innings.  Sorry, Wil--you're still pretty, but this is not major league performance.  Grade: F

This is a "do" league, not a "try" league...

This was a painful exercise, as I had to give bad grades to some players I really like.  I tried to grade the players based on how they've actually performed this season, not on how I think they'll do next season (or even in the rest of this season) or how they've done in the past.  Am I totally off base?  Who did I overrate/underrate?  Add your licks in the comments!

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