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?

Mike Bacsik for Sportsman of the Year

If you thought Teddy was the Washington Nationals’ ultimate lovable loser, think again. The team’s own Mike Bacsik has been nominated for Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins.

Bacsik, the journeyman lefthander with a 5.46 career ERA, was one of several improbable starters for the 2007 Nationals, whose already-thin rotation was decimated by injuries before last spring’s cherry blossoms had finished blooming. His 20 starts were largely unmemorable, except of course for August 7, when his named was penciled into the lineup and he promptly served up home run #756 to a certain slugger named Barry Bonds.

He was soon back in the minors, but thus did Michael Joseph Bacsik pitch himself into the history books alongside Al Downing, who for the past 32 years as profited from his fame as the man who gave up the previous record-breaking home run to Hank Aaron. Had Bacsik pitched a no-hitter that day, he could not have achieved such significant and sustained recognition.

For those who love to hate the new home run king, Jenkins argues that Bascik provided the perfect antidote to Bonds’ self-congratulating ego. As Bonds thumped his chest and pointed to the sky, Bacsik stood on the mound and laughed at himself. The self-deprication continued after the game. “I always dreamed about this as a kid,” Bacsik said. “But when I dreamed of it, I thought I would be the one hitting the home run.”

Jenkins says that the lovable, self-depricating loser Bacsik single-handedly made the moment tolerable. I don’t know if that makes him Sportsman of the Year, but given how long it’s going to be before any other Washington National stands a chance at that honor, I say “why not?”

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