The AS break hasn't meshed well with my day job schedule this year, so I'm a bit late on the grades for the position players (pltchers will have to wait for next week). The team got a 'C-' overall at the 81-game mark; how will your favorite player (or your favorite player to hate) rate on the notoriously unforgiving Doghouse curve? Here's the summary report card:
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 per a season's worth of innings/games. (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/waiver-wire 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. (For those interested, I use fWAR from fangraphs, although this time I'll consider bWAR from Baseball-Reference if it's higher.)
I'm only considering players who have at least 100 plate appearances and who are still on the active roster or 15-day DL. Broadly, "A" = AS/MVP, "B" = good starter, "C" = fringe starter, "D" = bench player, "F" = sub-replacement. Enough talk--on to the grades!
Head of the Class ("A" students)
Danny Espinosa may have been snubbed by the AS selection process, but he won't be here. Our rookie phenom is tearing it up at the plate with a .242/.332/.460 hitting line, 16 HRs, and a 122 wRC+, which is terrific for a middle infielder of his defensive prowess. Speaking of which, the advanced metrics have him solidly above average with the glove (+6.0 UZR/150, +8 TZR/yr, +3 DRS/yr). That's good for 3.3 fWAR in 387 PA, which is solidly AS caliber. Grade: A
Wilson Ramos has moved into the #1 catcher spot, notching a .251/.328/.451 batting line with 8 HR and a 104 wRC+. That's pretty good for a catcher, especially considering his above-average defense (+9 TZR/yr, +2 DRS/yr, 36% CS). That adds up to 1.9 bWAR over 250 PA, which is 5th among NL catchers, despite sharing time with Pudge. Grade: A-
Major League Achievers ("B" students)
Michael Morse has had a breakout season this year. He's hitting .306/.351/.535 with 15 HR and a fantastic 140 wRC+. Although he has only 1 error at 1B, the advanced defense measures have him slightly below average: (-3 UZR/150, +1 TZR/yr, -6 DRS/yr). So far this season, he's been worth 1.7 fWAR in 296 PA, which makes him a solid starter. (Before you start to complain that he should be an 'A,' remember that as an NL 1B, he's being compared to the likes of Fielder, Pujols, Votto, Sanchez, etc--if you go by a straight rank order of 1B's, he's a 'C.') Grade: B+
Gentleman Ballplayers ("C" students)
Laynce Nix has been a pleasant surprise, racking up a .274/.315/.502 line as a platoon player and bench bat with 12 HR and a 122 wRC+. HIs sore-Achilles-limited range has hampered his defense this year and confused the advanced metrics, pointing toward below average (-21.2 UZR/150, -6 TZR/yr, +11 DRS/yr). In 232 PA, his angry bat has carried him to 0.9 bWAR. Grade: C
Rick Ankiel has batted a fairly weak .232/.299/.333 with 3 HR and a 79 wRC+. However, The Arm has gotten it done in the field, winning the adulation of the advanced metrics (+3.2 UZR/150, +15 TZR/yr, +26 DRS/yr). That gives him a solid 0.7 bWAR in the premium CF spot in only 197 PA. Grade: C
Alex Cora has a veteran-y .235/.288/.278 line with a 60 wRC+. Rating the defense of a super-utility guy (he's played every IF position but pitcher and catcher) with the advanced metrics is a bit shady, but he looks well above average (+8.3 UZR/150, +13 TZR/yr, +9 DRS/yr). He's put up a good 0.4 fWAR in 126 PA, which is solid for a bench bat. Grade: C
Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .254/.342/.308 with 4 HR and a 108 wRC+ in 149 PA. Adapting to his new, post-injury throwing mechanics has brutalized his defense this season, and the advanced metrics have recorded their displeasure with his 4 throwing errors in limited playing time (-15.3 UZR/150, -19 TZR/yr, -29 DRS/yr). He's managed 0.4 fWAR (and a cringe-inducing 0.0 bWAR... but I'm using the larger of the two), which is barely enough to keep Zimmeh at starter-caliber if I squint really hard and remember last season. Grade: C-
Ivan Rodriguez has hit .214/.276/.325 this season as he continues his march to the HoF, belting 2 HRs and scoring a 64 wRC+. His defense is as solid as ever (+10 TZR/yr, +8 DRS/yr, 48% CS), and he's put up 0.3 fWAR in 129 PA. That's just enough to put him on the fringe, here, since I think WAR underrates catchers a bit. Grade: C-
Underachievers ("D" students)
Roger Bernadina has CHOMPed down pitching to the tune of a .266/.323/.380 line with 5 HR and a 103 wRC+. Those are good CF numbers, but below-average LF numbers. Defensively, the advanced metrics balance his highlight-reel gems with bad reads that limit his range, putting him solidly below average (-16 UZR/150, -8 TZR/yr, -5 DRS/yr). He's put up 0.6 bWAR in 249 PA, which is not starter-caliber. This grade hurt me to write down, but The Shark needs to hit more to be in LF, or to defend better to be in CF. Grade: D+
Ian Desmond's batting has fallen off to a disappointing .223/.264/.308 this season, with 3 HR and a 60 wRC+. Fortunately, his defense has improved to above league average (+1.9 UZR/150, +7 TZR/yr, +3 DRS/yr). This has helped him to a 0.4 bWAR in 349 PA. Overall, the sophomore slump at the plate has dragged him down farther than his better fielding has helped. Grade: D
Jerry Hairston has hit a surprising .260/.335/.352 with 2 HR and a 91 wRC+. Not bad for a utility guy, although his fielding has been well below average (-8.2 UZR/150, -3 TZR/yr, -10 DRS/yr). Overall, that's 0.2 fWAR in 219 PA--not great, but above replacement and acceptable for a bench player. Grade: D
Jayson Werth has struggled a bit this year this year, both at the plate and in the field. His first-half slump has his batting line at .215/.319/.362 with 10 HRs and a 92 wRC+. That would be good for a slick-fielding middle infielder, but a corner outfielder--not so much. The advanced metrics are divided on his fielding, having it at or below average (-7.1 UZR/150, 0 DRS/yr, 0 TZR/yr). Overall he's chalked up 0.3 fWAR in his 382 PA, which is bench-player territory and barely above replacement level. Grade: D-
What does this matter?
Consider how that Nats graded out at this point last season. This season, like last, there are basically three solid starters carrying the team (Espinosa, Morse, Ramos vs 2010's Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham). No one who's still on the team is sub-replacement this season (two bench players were in 2010). However, two full-time, long-term players are underachieving (Werth and Desmond, both regarded more as future pieces of a winning team than Morgan and Bernadina were in 2010). Most painfully, the Face of the Franchise is languishing below league average instead of being a viable MVP candidate. Still, this may offer a ray of hope in that we might expect Zimmerman, Werth, and Desmond to improve by the end of the season, and somehow the Nats are still at .500 in spite of their struggles. The present has some grim spots, but wait 'til the second half!