The Washington Nationals Got Younger. Will They Be Better?

It’s been rumored that Stan Kasten is considering adding more presidents to the presidents race at Nationals Park in 2008. Could this be part of The Plan to make the team younger as they seek to build a champion? Teddy Roosevelt is currently the youngest of the racing presidents, but he was born 149 years ago, so none of them are exactly spring chickens.

But seriously, the team did get younger this week. The question on fans’ minds is did they also get better?

At the recently-concluded winter meetings, Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden made several big moves. When the dust cleared, the Nationals had said goodbye to Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Jonathan Albaledejo, Billy Traber, Justin Jones, and Glen Gibson.

The new faces on the Nationals include Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Tyler Clippard, Aaron Boone, Matt Whitney, Garrett Guzman, and as has been reported by Barry Svrugla., catcher Paul LoDuca.

Followers of the Washington Nationals such as Mark Zuckerman and Chris Needham seem to agree that the team made a lot of progress this week. But while I applaud Bowden for executing against The Plan, I’m not ready to greet the moves with anything other than a little cautious optimism.

Did the Nationals address needs? Yes.
Did they get younger? Absolutely.
Did they acquire some upside potential on the cheap? Without question.

On the flip side, they also created some holes that have yet to be filled. There are no left-handed bats to speak of, and more importantly, they left themselves with only Jesus Flores at the catcher position. The signing of LoDuca doesn’t fill that hole. It only puts an exclamation point on the fact that they couldn’t fill it. LoDuca’s 1-year contract is a stopgap until a long-term solution is found.

At some point, when the Nationals acquire their catcher of the future, let’s take a look at what they had to give up to get him, and then we can do the math. If it turns out that another year of seasoning is all Jesus Flores needs to become an all star behind the plate, then Bowden looks like a genius.

Washington Nationals Trade All Their Left-Handed Starters

When I first saw the cozy right field dimensions of the new Nationals Park, my first thought was “if their averages don’t improve at least we’ll see more home runs from Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.”

Well, today the Washington Nationals announced that they had traded Brian Schneider and Ryan Church to the New York Mets for outfielder Lastings Milledge. Milledge is only 22 years old and filled with raw talent, but the Mets are in “win now” mode, and are willing to trade potential in change for consistency and experience, particularly behind the plate.

I have to commend Jim Bowden for continuing to advance The Plan. Schneider in particular was a fan favorite — an original National whose experience is credited with holding together last year’s rag-tag pitching staff. Still, it’s hard to criticize the team for getting younger and cheaper while filling a hole. It could be an absolute steal if Milledge fulfills his potential in a Nationals uniform.

Here’s what concerns me. Am I the only one who noticed that the Nationals just traded their only 2 left-handed starting pull hitters in exchange for another righty?

With Church and Schneider gone, switch-hitting Dmitri Young is the only potential regular starter with even a slightly better career batting average vs. left-handed pitchers. Here are the career splits for the 11 Nationals position players who stand to get the most starts. The right column shows the difference in batting average when facing right-handed pitching (for Nook Logan, I only included his right-handed at-bats, since he is no longer a switch-hitter).

Player vs Right vs Left Difference
Dmitri Young .286 .295 +.09
Cristian Guzman .263 .263
Felipe Lopez .257 .260 -.03
Ronnie Belliard .270 .284 -.14
Nick Johnson .264 .295 -.31
Austin Kearns .257 .289 -.32
Lastings Milledge .246 .281 -.35
Wily Mo Pena .247 .283 -.36
Jesus Flores .220 .270 -.50
Ryan Zimmerman .267 .330 -.63
Nook Logan .237 .314 -.77

As you can see, things are fairly stable with the switch hitters at the top of the list, but it falls off the charts pretty quickly after that.

I hope the Nats have found the centerfielder of the future, but I just can’t get too comfortable with this young lineup. Last year, as a team the Nationals batted only .250 vs. right-handers while hitting .272 vs. lefties. You won’t find a differential like that on a playoff team, yet after today’s trade, how can it possibly improve?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,998 other followers

%d bloggers like this: