The Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond #6 and Nyjer Morgan #1 have to get on base to take advantage of the middle of the Nats' order's power. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
If you weren't already worried about the top of the Washington Nationals' order, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman reminded everyone earlier this week that the two batters who fit best in the first and second spots, Nyjer Morgan and Ian Desmond, respectively, need to significantly improve their ability to get on base to make better use of the Nationals' middle-of-the-order hitters Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. According to CSN and the NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, who quoted the Nationals' Manager in an article on Tuesday entitled, "Riggleman on Livo, Nyjer and Storen", Mr. Riggleman said that though he'd considered hitting Desmond lower in the order, "he's been successful hitting second," and though the Nats have alternatives in center like Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Rick Ankiel on hand, Riggleman said, "'I really don't want to think about that,'" when asked about alternatives should the 30-year-old Morgan's struggles continue.
Morgan finished a drama-filled statistically dismal 2010 campaign season (he now says had a lot to do with lingering injuries from a broken left hand suffered in 2009 and contract issues last winter which distracted the outfielder) with a .253/.319/.314 line, which was down from a .307/.369/.388 combined line between Pittsburgh and D.C. in '09 and off what Bill James had projected (a .302/.356/.376 line) for Morgan's first full season in Washington.
Going into 2011, Mr. James sees an improvement (.285/.347/.352) on Morgan's 2010 totals, though the Marcel projections (.270/.333/.349) at Fangraphs.com are less sure of a return to form. (With form = Morgan's .283/.344/.360 career line.) Riggleman's on record saying Morgan's a .290 hitter, and he's reiterated that he'd like at least a .350 OBP from his leadoff hitter as he said in discussions at the end on the 2010 season.
Ian Desmond's first full season in D.C., produced a (lot of errors) and a .269/.308/.392 slash line. The 25-year-old '04 Expos' 3rd Round pick's .308 2010 OBP, which Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore noted in a Nationals Journal article entitled, "Jim Riggleman wants the top of the Nationals order on the offensive", had Desmond, "ranked 68th out 74 qualifying National League players," was supported by a strong August, take away the .385 OBP he put up that month and Desmond's .308 OBP drops to a .289 on the year.
Bill James has Desmond putting up a .280/.328/.421 slash line next season. Marcel a .273/.320/.407 line. "If we're going to be that really good ball club that we strive to be," Riggleman was quoted as stating by Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Jim Riggleman wants the top of the Nationals order on the offensive", then, "that on-base in the 1 and 2 spot has got to be moving toward that .350 range." Morgan, in particular though, poses a problem because of his career-long difficulties against left-handed pitching.
The Nats, at one time or another this winter, have talked about Jayson Werth's ability in center should that trend in Morgan's production continue. Morgan's .200/.292/.269 line, however, doesn't bode well for the Nats' future against LHP since even with Werth, Hairston or Ankiel in center, there's no real leadoff alernative on the roster. Morgan, however, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, though he's, "...ready to turn page on tumultuous 2010", as the article's title states, isn't concerned about his splits, but instead thinks he just needs to play like the Morgan fans saw before his broken hand in 2009:
"'My biggest thing is, I have to play. I'm not worried about hitting lefties, hitting righties. I just have to play. I know what I can do. I've had my ups and I've had my downs. I think I know how to manage them now.'"
Impressive as he was in his first half-season in D.C., with a .351/.396/.435 line with Washington, however, Morgan still hit just .175 with a .283 OBP and .223 SLG against LHP during that stretch. So, who leads off if Morgan ends up on the bench against lefties? Danny Espinosa? Espi had a .337 OBP on the year in the minors in 2010. Hairston had a .299 OBP last year in San Diego. Hairston has a .312 OBP against LHP and he has a .243/.310/.340 line as a leadoff batter. Rick Ankiel...is no leadoff hitter. Nats' Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein better build a plan for Morgan against lefties...