Washington Nationals: 2011? Where Does Roger Bernadina Belong?

During an interview with internet writers in August of 2009, DC GM Mike Rizzo was asked if the Nationals used statistical analysis in their decision-making process in terms of roster make-up and management, or if the veteran scout who worked for the White and Red Sox before becoming the Arizona Diamondbacks' Director of Scouting and eventually the Nats' Assistant GM and then General Manager, relied on his eye when evaluating players. At the time, the Nats' General Manager had said, "...we bring the statistical analysis into it, although, you know, I trust what I see more than what I read, but it's always nice when what I read corresponds to what I think I see." I had Mr. Rizzo's answer in mind this weekend when I conducted a small experiment, asking a saber-inclined so-called "stat-nerd" (Really, Mr. Boswell? "Stat-Nerd?") and the Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman to take a look at the same question: Where is Nats' outfielder Roger Bernadina's ideal spot in the batting order?

Before Roger Bernadina turned things around in the 5-spot this weekend, going 2 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI single on Sunday and 3 for 12 with 2 RBI's in the series, I had started to wonder how well he fit there, though I know Josh Willingham's absence is the main reason Bernie's batting 5th. The estimable Doghouse, examined the question in a post entitled, "Where to bat Bernie?", coming to the conclusion that the Nats' outfielder is actually best suited for the 6th or 7th spot in the order where his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is, "...an eye-watering .397 as a 6-hitter, which means he's been pretty lucky hitting there." Here's how Doghouse summed up his findings:

Doghouse: "Likewise, he's got a pretty unlucky .235 [BABIP] hitting 5th--is his apparent success in the 6-spot a factor of random chance? Well, let's adjust his stats a bit: we can estimate an "expected" BABIP based on things like how often he strikes out, his speed, and his distribution of hit types. Roger "should" have a BABIP of around .325. If we drop his 6-spot stats by an even 20% to offset his luck with balls finding grass instead of gloves, his slash stats drop to about 270/325/443--look familiar? That's pretty close to his overall batting line, but with a bit more SLG--solidly league average or a bit better. Doing the same trick to put a 40% bonus on his unlucky 5-spot stats gives us 263/340/388--below league average, and definitely stretching the limits of this sort of statistical game (since he only has 50 PA batting 5th). Still, he's hit better in 6th than in 5th, even trying to normalize his BABIP to even out luck. Just for reference, applying a 325 BABIP to his 7-spot stats gives a 280/335/430 line--right around his overall numbers again, and solidly above average.

"Overall, Bernie's stats look well-suited to hitting 6th or 7th, and his performance (normalized for luck) has been best there this season. Note well, that he seemed to alter his approach at the top of the order to up his OBP, although the small number of PA there makes it hard to say whether the effect is for real."

Before I read what Doghouse (it's a screen name, don't let that affect your opinion of his findings) had come up with, I took a moment at the end of Saturday morning's pregame press conference, after all the pressing matters had been dealt with and when a lull in the proceedings offered me an opportunity to jump in, to ask Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman if, after almost a full-season with Bernadina on the roster, he'd come to any conclusions himself about which spot in the order best suited the left-handed hitting outfielder? Here's Mr. Riggleman's response, which due to the structure of the pregame meetings also factors in the lineup the Nationals' manager had put together for Saturday's game:

Jim Riggleman: "Well you know, Josh Willingham was our 5th hitter, so we're trying to just do something there to protect Adam Dunn a little bit, and have a formidable bat there. The other way to do it would be to hit Dunn third, Zimmerman fourth. That didn't really work as well for us as we would like, so we're doing it this way. Roger's best spot is probably eventually maybe 3, but right now he's probably better suited for 2 or 6, but without Josh here we need him to hit fifth. I don't know if when guys hit in certain spots and they do better, or they don't do as well somewhere else, I don't know if it gets in their head or if it's coincidence. Year by year, you can look at some things and a guy one year maybe did very well hitting in a particular spot then the next year he didn't and some guys really get out of whack if they don't hit in "their" slot, which it shouldn't be that way, but for some guys it is. I don't think Roger has a spot where he feels he has to hit to feel comfortable, I think he's just getting up there and competing no matter where he's at."

So, Mr. Riggleman obviously doesn't cite any statistical analysis in his thought-process, and though the Nats do consult advanced metrics, I think I can safely say that the Nats' Skipper's decisions are more than likely not based on Bernadina's BABIP, both he and Doghouse come to the same essential conclusion, with the 6-spot a seemingly ideal place for Bernadina in the future, though he did show some promise batting third in front of Zim and Dunn, as Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore noted recently in an article entitled, "On Roger Bernadina hitting third and facing lefties". Mr. Kilgore also quoted the Riggleman in that article expressing some surprise at the fact that Bernadina's even shown that he can occassionally hit left-handed pitching too, (ed. note - "Though Bernadina had no doubt about that, saying in the article, '"I hit lefties,' Bernadina said. 'I've never gotten a chance in the big leagues, but in the minor leagues, yeah.'"), with Mr. Riggleman saying: 

"'He's either gotten better against lefties, or maybe he was good all along and we just weren't playing him against lefties," Riggleman said. 'I'm not sure which it is, but he's doing fine. He's held in there pretty good. We could get to the point where he's out there every day.'"

I'd argue that the Bernadina's already at the point where he should be out there every day. He's shown all year that given the chance he's capable of excelling at just about every aspect of the game, though he does still struggle with the occassional bender, but anyone who's watched him on a daily basis recognizes he's made improvements there as well. So what did we learn? Doghouse is good at the maths? Riggleman's non-advanced-metric-based decisions unknowingly support the numbers. And the DC GM Mike Rizzo would probably be happy that the numbers correspond to what his Skipper sees. And most important of all? The Nats need to stop limiting Roger Bernadina. Stop sitting him against lefties. Put him out there every day and let him go. And I'll just go ahead and say, Bernie's skills play better in center. And right now he's a better option than Nyjer Morgan

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