Washington Nationals 2011 Position Player Final Report Card

Well, apparently I'm a glutton for punishment.  After giving the team a 'C-' overall for 2011, now it's time to see how your favorite player (or your favorite player to hate) rates on the merciless (and possibly arbitrary) Doghouse curve.  Here's the summary report card:

Wilson Ramos A-
Ryan Zimmerman B
Michael Morse B
Danny Espinosa B-
Rick Ankiel B-
Jayson Werth C+
Jonny Gomes C
Ivan Rodriguez C
Roger Bernadina C-
Laynce Nix D+
Ian Desmond D+
Jerry Hairston D+
Alex Cora D
Adam LaRoche D-
Brian Bixler D-
Jesus Flores F
Chris Marrero F
Steve Lombardozzi F
Matt Stairs F

An explanation of the grading scheme and details for each player after the jump.  Stats courtesy baseball-reference and fangraphs, through the 2011 regular season.

First, a quick overview of my approach:

For offense, I list wRC+, which 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.  I list the triple-slash and HRs/SB if they're notable.

For defense, I show 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.  For those who are interested, I list 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/waiver-wire player).  It's adjusted for position (so a 1B is expected to hit more than a SS) and the current run environment (it takes about 9 runs to add a win this season).  Higher is better, and a negative WAR means that a player probably shouldn't be on a major league roster. (For those interested, I use fWAR from Fangraphs, although I consider bWAR from Baseball-Reference if it's higher.)  I scaled each players' WAR to 650 PA and assigned a grade based on that number.  A "D-" starts at 0.0 WAR, and grades go up by half a letter for each +0.5 WAR.  That means that an "A+" would be a scaled WAR of 5.5 or higher.  Negative WAR is an "F."

I considered position players who had at least 10 plate appearances in 2011.  Broadly, "A" = AS/MVP, "B" = solid starter, "C" = fringe starter, "D" = bench player, "F" = sub-replacement.  I haven't tried to adjust the grades for expectations, newness, injuries, or any other mitigating factors.  The curve is the league (possibly the league minus half a grade).  Players are in descending order of scaled WAR.

Head of the Class ("A" students)

Wilson Ramos leads the 2011 Nats' report card, putting up a respectable 109 wRC+ in 435 PA (.267/.334/.445).  He was okay behind the dish, with +1 UZR, -1 DRS, and +3 TZR, not to mention a 32% CS rate.  That adds up to +3.1 fWAR, putting him at the top of the class.  Grade: A-

Major League Achievers ("B" students)

Ryan Zimmerman struggled with recovery from injury and changes to his throwing motion that were both painful to watch and painful for his defensive numbers.  He finished 2011 with the first negative-UZR season of his career (-3.1 runs), as well as -1 DRS and +0 TZR.  Still, he hit for a 119 wRC+ in 440 PA, with a .289/.355/.443 line and +2.5 fWAR in 440 PA.  Grade: B

Michael Morse Beast-Moded his way to an eye-watering 147 wRC+, hitting .303/.360/.550 in 575 PA with 31 HRs.  His glove was somewhat cooler than his bat, racking up -10 TZR, -5 DRS, and -13 UZR between 1B and LF (with LF being much worse than 1B).  Overall, that's +3.3 fWAR.  Keep in mind that in spite of his premium offense, he was mostly at a premium offensive position this year (being graded against the likes of Pujols, Fielder, Votto, etc).  Grade: B

Danny Espinosa racked up a 104 wRC+ with a .236/.323/.414 line and 21 HRs and 17 SB, despite a terrible second-half slump and being second in team K% (25.2%).  Defensively, he put up +1 UZR, +4 TZR, and +4 DRS--just above league average.  Still, that added up to +3.5 fWAR over 658 PA, with +2.9 runs on the base paths.  Being slightly-above-league-average adds up when you can do it over a whole season.  Grade: B-

Rick Ankiel put together a heck of a defensive season in CF, with +17 TZR, +16 DRS, and +6.9 UZR.  Good defense in a premium defensive position outweighed his below-average 83 wRC+ (.239/.296/.363, 9 HR) to the tune of +2.1 bWAR in 415 PA.  Grade: B-

Gentleman Ballplayers ("C" students)

Jayson Werth battled with high expectations as he recorded a 103 wRC+, hitting .232/.330/.389 with 20 HRs.  His fielding was solidly (ableit slightly) above-average in RF, with +1.4 UZR, +5 TZR, and +7 DRS.  He even contributed +2.6 runs with good baserunning.  That was good for +2.5 fWAR over 649 PA.  Grade: C+

Jonny Gomes brought mohawk-style 'dos at the deadline, not to mention 3 HRs, a .204/.299/.366 batting line (88 wRC+), and a memorable walkoff HBP.  He was a decent enough fielder, racking up +2 UZR, +3 TZR, and +2 DRS in the corner OF spots.  Despite a team-leading  29% K%, he racked up +0.4 fWAR in only 107 PA.  Grade: C

Ivan Rodriguez paused on his way to the HoF to record a mere 63 wRC+ (.218/.281/.323) in 137 PA.  His bat may not be so strong, but the defense is, as he recorded +3 UZR, +4 TZR, and +4 DRS in his limited playing time, while throwing out an amazing 52% of steal attempts.  The old guy was still good for +0.4 fWAR.  Grade: C-

Roger Bernadina CHOMPed his way to an 89 wRC+, hitting .243/.301/.362 with 7 HRs and 17 SB in only 337 PA.  I think we were all hoping his defense would shine this year, but he failed to claim CF, racking up -0.4 UZR, +4 TZR, and +2 DRS among the three OF spots.  That only added up to +0.8 fWAR.  Grade: C-

Needs Improvement ("D" students)

Laynce Nix was a pleasant platoon surprise for the first half, using his anger to power out a 101 wRC+ on a .250/.299/.451 hitting line with 16 HRs in 351 PA.  His OF performance was mixed, with a -5 UZR, +0 TZR, and +5 DRS.  That added up to +0.8 bWAR.  Grade: D+

Ian Desmond had a disappointing year at the plate, hitting only .253/.298/.358 with 8 HR (one of which was a magnificently clutch game-tying blast) and a team-leading 25 SB.  He picked up another +3.6 runs by taking the extra base.  His defense picked up from 2010, but still rated below average, with a -5.4 UZR, -5 TZR, and -2 DRS.  Over 639 PA he put together +1.4 fWAR, only a few runs away from a "C-."  Grade: D+

Jerry Hairston left at the deadline, but not before putting up a solid 101 wRC+ (.268/.342/.385) with 4 HR in 238 PA.  His glove was a less solid than his glove, costing -4 UZR, -1 TZR, and -2 DRS over a variety of IF/OF positions.  Bad baserunning cost -1.5 runs, worst on the team.  Still, he provided a utilitarian +0.5 bWAR.  Grade: D+

Alex Cora stayed behind at the deadline, managing a 59 wRC+ (.224/.287/.276) in 172 PA.  He showed some value with the glove, racking up +2.0 UZR, +3 TZR, and +3 DRS at 1B/2B/3B/SS.  That's +0.2 fWAR. Grade: D

Adam LaRoche played with a power-sapping torn labrum before going on the DL for surgery, hitting a paltry .172/.288/.258 with 3 HRs, for a 58 wRC+ in 177 PA.  Still, he brought it with the glove, registering a +3.8 UZR, +8 TZR, and +4 DRS.  He was second on the Nats in defense, despite playing only a quarter of the season.  Of course, 1B is not a prime defensive spot, and that added up to 0.0 bWAR.  Grade: D-

Brian Bixler was a perennial game-thread whipping boy with a 32 wRC+ and painful PR pickoffs a-plenty.  He did manage +3 UZR, +4 TZR, and +2 DRS over the course of playing six different IF and OF positions.  The defense was just enough to get him to 0.0 bWAR over his 94 PA.  Grade: D-

Not Helping ("F" students)

Jesus Flores struggled to a 47 wRC+ (.209/.253/.314) in 91 PA.  His defense was essentially average (+0 UZR, -1 TZR, +0 DRS).  While he may be crushing the VWL, he only managed -0.1 fWAR on his road to recovery.

Chris Marrero didn't exactly tear it up in his debut, hitting .248/.278/.294 (53 wRC+) in 117 PA.  His fielding seemed to show some nerves, too, with -1.6 UZR, +3 TZR, +0 DRS.  That didn't get it done at 1B, and he only managed -0.2 bWAR.

Steve Lombardozzi was a fave of some of the "Dez is a bum!" crowd, but he only managed an 18 wRC+, hitting .194/.219/.226 in 32 PA.  He was more promising in the field, with +0.2 UZR.  The sample size here is microscopic, but it's definitely negative, at -0.2 fWAR.

Matt Stairs was another popular game threat scapegoat (and a Canadian, too!), with his painful 24 wRC+.  He even managed to accumulate -0.6 UZR.  While I remember that one time he got a hit, -0.5 bWAR in 74 PA does nothing good for the team.

Looking ahead 

I think there's a lot to like, here.  Morse, Zim, and Ramos were the solid core for the 2011 team.  I think we can expect Ramos to be just as good next year, and Zimmy to be better.  Desmond and Werth disappointed, but I expect both improve toward their career averages.  If Morse stays at his career average, and Espinosa stays close to this season in performance, that's another 5 wins, easy.  If we see incremental defensive improvements, that's another win or two.  Heck, just replacing Matt Stairs with Bixler would add half a win!  Even before trades, FA, Harper, or Strasburg, I can look at this report card and see 85 wins next season.  When we look at pitchers, I think things will be even better.  Another 10 wins could be a realistic target for 2012.

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