Instant Opinion: The Nats should go all-bat in the OF

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Last night's game sealed it. The Nats' outfield has been lagging in offensive production. Zimmerman/Harper/Werth is the eventual configuration they need to win.

We're trying out a new feature here on Federal Baseball where I post hastily written, poorly thought out rants about the Nats. I promise to you, the reader, to spend no more than 60 minutes researching and writing these articles.

Proposition: The Nationals OF is bad at hitting and fielding

Add up what the team has been getting from the outfield spots so far in 2014. You don't get very much. As a group, the Nats have been hitting .268/.334/.374 in the OF, for an exactly-league-average 100 wRC+. "But, Doghouse," you say, "League-average offensive production is perfectly adequate given superior defense and pitching." From the outfield? Fiddlesticks! The corners are where we need sluggers and RBI guys--let the glovey-glovey types dive around on the infield dirt.  And speaking of slugging, the Nats have a league-lagging 10 HRs (the average NL OF has 20--TWENTY).

Sure, the Nats are 9th in the NL in wRC+, but they're tied for 11th in WAR, thanks to their also-last-in-the-NL defensive adjustment of -18.3 runs. "Doghouse," you protest, "the advanced defensive stats are notoriously unreliable over short stretches, and my eyes tell me that Denard Span is a plus-plus defender." Pish-posh! Who are you going to believe, Fangraphs or your own lying eyes?

Span-lee-2_medium

via cdn.fangraphs.com

Ahem, yes, well... Anyhow, if you go beyond the context-independent stats above, we start getting the really bad stuff. The Nats OF has 58 RBI this year. That is last in the NL by an enormous margin; league average is 84!

Solution: Harper (when healthy) replaces Span in CF, Zim stays in LF

By now, you're rolling your eyes and are fairly well convinced that I'm trolling you. Don't say that this outfield alignment hasn't occurred to you! I know Span's been hitting better recently, but let's take a look at the projections for the rest of the season, and you tell me which you'd rather have: Span's 99 wRC+ (.278/.331/.380) or Bryce Harper's 132 wRC+ (.274/.356/.480)? We posit that the problem in the OF is lack of thump, and Harper brings teh thwak. Sure, he loses a bit on defense, but we've written that off already. That much bat in CF is getting into mini-Andrew McCutchen territory (okay, not quite, but I already used the "come on, man" gif). I admit that currently Span and Harper project to have the same WAR over the rest of the season, but that's because Harp is in a corner--move him to CF and he picks up at least half a win from the positional adjustment over half a season. Is that half a win you're willing to write off? I didn't think so.

...aaaand it's time to leave for work.

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