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Defense is offensive no more

Jan 31, 2011, 4:01 PM EDT

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats believe Ian Desmond will benefit from the addition of Adam LaRoche at first base.

It’s been a recurring problem for five years now, one that has persisted through two managerial changes, one GM switch and plenty of roster turnover.

At last, though, the Nationals believe they have overcome the defensive woes that have plagued them practically since they arrived in town.

A calculated attempt this winter to rid themselves of poor-fielding players in exchange for some more known for slick glove work leaves the Nationals with a group club officials believe could be their best defensive team since 2005.

Read my full article at CSNwashington.com.

  1. joemktg - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Not as optimistic as others, as I need proof that:1) Desmond can significantly reduce the number of errors at SS (SIGNIFICANTLY)2) Nyjer improves his decision-making regarding throws3) Nyjer's arm strength improves4) Espinosa is fully-healed from his off-season injury.They absolutely improved at 1B and LF, but without the aforementioned answered, it's still offensive. And unfortunately, the pitching and offense will not overcome this offensiveness. Proven guilty. Probation warranted if these 4 areas are answered positively.

  2. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    Put me in the "Show Me" group. I was one of the 50 or 60 of us that got to meet Manny Acta in December of 2006 when he was introduced at a Spring Training Meet and Greet in Melbourne, Fl. prior to his first Spring Taining camp. His mantra then was "we are going to focus on defense and fundamentals" and we all know how that worked out.

  3. Doc - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Correctomundo joemktg! Nats need to walk-the- walk, not just talk-the-talk! I'm confident about improvement a 1B, SS-2B, and RF. CF and Morgan still looks like an on-going problem. His arm is not going to get stronger, and his decision making will probably continue to be suspect. A central issue with Morgan is that he trusts instincts that are counterintuitive to how the game is best played—and, even worse, no one in management calls him on it. Its strange all the way around!!!!

  4. Mike Edgar - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    joemktg wrote:"They absolutely improved at 1B and LF, but without the aforementioned answered, it's still offensive. And unfortunately, the pitching and offense will not overcome this offensiveness."————————-You don't think that the team is much improved in right field?

  5. Anonymous - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    Never thought of it that way before–Nyjer running on instincts instead of a sound understanding of the game. With his emotional makeup, those instincts may be at the root of his (sometimes problematic) decision making.fpcsteve

  6. Mike Edgar - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    joemktg wrote:"They absolutely improved at 1B and LF, but without the aforementioned answered, it's still offensive. And unfortunately, the pitching and offense will not overcome this offensiveness."——————————————Don't you think that Werth is a huge upgrade in right field?

  7. John O'Connor - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    I have no doubt that the defense will be significantly improved. I see top-drawer fielders at 3rd base, second base, left field (when Bernadina plays) and right field. I see good fielders at first base and catcher. With Desmond and Morgan, it's really a question of trade-offs. Can Morgan's speed minimize the negative effect of a weak arm and questionable decision-making? Can Desmond's range mitigate the effect of his errors? Bugt that's just two of eight positions on the field that could be poor but also could be average or better. The other six positions are very solid (assuming Bernie and Espinosa hit enough to remain in the lineup).

  8. Rabbit - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    All are very good comments. But, each comment is as good as the others. We won't know until the season is over whose comments were correct about the defense. By that time it won't make any difference. What was, was. But it is fun guessing.

  9. SCNatsFan - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    I think this is a huge year for Desmond; clearly he has excellent range but must use his head to tuck the ball when its right. As he goes so will the team error total go. As for Morgan, I just can't see him playing CF by the all star break; IMHO he's on his downside and when the slide continues his anger issues will just make things worse. I hope I am wrong but I don't see many positive things being written about him this season.

  10. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    I'm not saying we haven't upgraded the potential for being substatially better defensively. I'm saying that the proof is in the playing.And I refuse to believe that Nyjer Morgan is a good defensive baseball player.

  11. joemktg - Jan 31, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    Mike Edgar: the improvement in LF is a result of the improvement in RF. In other words, it's a net improvement of 1, going from Josh/Nyjer/Bernie to Bernie/Nyjer/Werth. Net net is: Josh out, Werth in.

  12. Mark'd - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    Joemktg – You can't check off Nyjer's arm strength as it is not going to improve. The question is his decision making skills.As far as the rest this is just rehashing topics already covered. I don't see Espinosa's hamate bone affecting his defense although my concern is how it will affect his offense.

  13. DCJohn - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    A month from now, when the spring training games get under way, we'll begin to see. By the middle of March, the team should be in full dress rehersal for the season opener. If the the errors start mounting up from mid-March till the opener, then nothing has changed. Errors are as much about attitude as ability. For those of us who have been following this team since 2005, we hope Rizzo is right and it shows from day one.

  14. dale - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    Just from a fan's perspective, I would much rather watch a game that perhaps has one less offensive run scored by the Nats in return for not having the recurring nightmare which was the defense displayed by this team. The overall improvement in the defense will enable the starters to go longer and save the bullpen innings. How many games did we witness Nats pitchers having to throw a dozen extra pitches in an inning to account for a fourth and sometimes fifth out of the inning? I am hoping that this season poor defense will not be tolerated by management. I also believe that defense breeds its own momentum, helping the entire team stay mentally sharp in all phases of the game.

  15. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:13 PM

    I recall a half dozen errors when Desmond threw without a shred of a chance of getting the runner. That is something that improves with experience. I will accept the possibility that he was charged w/ maybe another half-dozen where Dunn was the proximate cause. And I think there were maybe a couple that were simply the consequence of getting to balls that few mortals would have reached. That gets him down into the range of 25 errors a year — Ripken in his prime. Luis Aparicio, one of the 4-5 best defensive shortstops of all time, had 35 errors in his rookie season. If Desmond turns out to be Aparicio, anyone gonna complain? Zoilo Versalles was an error machine but didn't get run out of town because he was bad on defense. At the end of the year Desmond won't be the defensive weak link. 2B might, if Espinosa can't hit and Hairston gets the majority of the starts. CF will be the open sore as long as Morgan starts, or until the skies open and he gets divine inspiration about how to play the position. Right now, instead of heading straight for the ball, he runs all over the outfield as if he were being paid by the mile.

  16. joemktg - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    On the positive side regarding the IF defense: their collective range has dramatically improved. The lateral quickness on the left side is proven, and the Espinosa/LaRoche combo on the right side is a 180 degree range improvement over last year's combinations. If it's not going to get caught, then those grounders are at least going to be knocked down, and that's going to prevent runners from advancing beyond one base.

  17. Mark'd - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    Quote of the week on Nyjer by Theophilus: Instead of heading straight for the ball, he runs all over the outfield as if he were BEING PAID BY THE MILE.Sad but true laced with witty humor!

  18. Sunderland - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    Mark Z wrote "And Nyjer Morgan, despite some shaky play early last season, remains one of the better center fielders in the sport."Seriously? He may have plus range, but everything else about his game is a minus. His throwing arm, his routes to balls, his decision making, it's all a minus. NatsJack commented about how Manny Acta was going to focus on fundamentals. last year, Riggleman mentioned how the Nats took infield practice everyday. And yet they sucked, and it seemed as though there were never ramifications for poor play.Too much of our ability to be really good defensively rests on our coaches and our manager and I have little confidence in them.

  19. N. Cognito - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    I still can't help but think there was something going on in Nyjer's life that affected him mentally last year. Prior to last season, he was never nearly as bad, in most aspects of his game, as he was last season.

  20. HHover - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    TheophiliusRipken's prime was a good bit better than 25 errors a year. That's what he made in his first full year at SS at age 22–vs Desmond's 34 last year at age 24. In his prime, Ripken averaged more like 15 errors a year–and of course, those were 162 game seasons.I agree that it's reasonable to expect Desmond to improve, but he's got a long way to go to merit comparisons to Ripken in his prime.

  21. joemktg - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    Theophilus: Desmond's error rate as a percentage of total chances was 5.34% last year, which was the highest among SS playing more than 80 games. The average was 2.83%. For Desmond to reach that average, he would've needed to commit 16 fewer error than the 34 committed. That's a reduction of 47%. So based on last year's ML stats, just to attain mediocrity, he needs to commit no more than 18 errors. Getting to Ripken territory of 25 errors will not get you to the middle of the pack. A close-to 50% reduction gets you to average.

  22. Anonymous - Jan 31, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    If Desmond doesn't they have Espinosa. There's also Hairston. Lombardozzi is on the horizon.If Morgan doesn't watch out he might just get supplanted by Corey Brown. Brown probably needed a change of scenery (just as many though about Morgan in Pittsburgh?) so he might just get a look. I'm not convinced that ex-pitcher Ankiel is an improvement. He has no bat, but supposedly he can field well enough.

  23. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    Joe — The more chances you have, the more errors you're going to make. Because the additional chances are at the outside of the player's range, more of them are going to be difficult (albeit makeable) plays, more errors will result, especially on throws from deep in the hole or behind second. So a shortstop w/ outstanding range will have more errors as a pct. of chances. That pct. is a really misleading stat. What made Ripken great — and his pct. of errors/chance low — was his positioning. He did not have great natural range. He simply started in the right position — according to the batter, pitch and situation — and got started moving sooner. Accordingly, he had a huge no. of chances, and a relatively low error rate. He did have a better than average arm. If you haven't read Geo. Will's Men at Work, it should be required for every semi-serious fan. So, another reason to expect Desmond's errors to go down is that — in addition to learning when to hold onto the ball — his positioning will improve with experience and he will end up squared up to the ball more often, and less often be trying to recover from lunging at it.

  24. Anonymous - Jan 31, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    The problem with many flamethrowers is they give up movement for speed. You need both speed and movement and of course hit your locations and possess several good pitches as a starting pitcher to excel.In other words Garett Mock. Look how he has done so far?But let's take two close-to-home examples shall we? When Ryan Tatusko came over from the Texas system he increased his velocity in his starts. He was key to getting H'burg to the playoffs. He was consistently hitting between 93-95 and as high as 97. His idea JayB? Or "player development/scouting" who saw something when he was with Texas.The same was tried by Trevor Holder and clearly it didn't work. However, there is something other than movement right? More than one pitch to get you past 1-2 innings. The more pitches you have command over the more effective you are. The hitter never knows what's coming and if you have a plus-plus fast ball it makes it even worst. There's also sink. So, movement is great to have if you are a 1-2 inning reliever. But, for a starter its better to have more pitches which is what makes Maya interesting particularly if he can bring up the velocity on his fastball and keep his sink.

  25. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    Let me try to start a discussion on another area where the Nats sorely need an improvement — pitchers batting. It has previously been recognized that there is an almost 1-to-1 statistical correlation between a pitcher's no. of victories and his total hits plus sacrifice hits. This is at least in part due to the fact that a pitcher who can be depended on to lay down a bunt, or is at least not an automatic out, is less likely to be removed for a pinch hitter. E.g., Denny McLain in his 31W season, had 18 base hits and 17 successful bunts, and the following 24W season had 13 hits and 17 bunts. (And pitched close to 700 innings in those two seasons.)By my count, Nats pitchers in 2010 had 37 hits and 20 successful bunts. By that measure, they were lucky to win 69 times.Maybe none of these guys is ever going to be a Newcombe or Drysdale, but at least they could learn how to bunt.

  26. N. Cognito - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:26 PM

    "It has previously been recognized that there is an almost 1-to-1 statistical correlation between a pitcher's no. of victories and his total hits plus sacrifice hits."I never heard this one. Where did it come from?

  27. Steve M. - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    N. Cognito, it makes little since in correlation to wins but the basics of pitchers laying down bunts looked pathetic at times last year. It cost Strasburg in a game, Stammen, and Lannan a few times.I was frustrated as Stammen can hit better than he can bunt and the same with Livan.This is one of those "Come on Man" moments and goes to yesterday's point someone made where the fundamentals at the Major League level isn't being done when you can't teach a National League pitcher to bunt.

  28. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    The correlation between pitchers' hitting and wins was in an article I saw maybe 20-25 years ago. McLain and other good hitting pitchers, e.g., Ferguson Jenkins, were cited. I know that the causal relationship is limited but (A) advancing base runners, turning over the batting order does lead to victories; (B) leaving the starter in longer gives the starter a better chance of a victory; (C) not using up pinch hitters early saves the best pinch hitters for crunch time and reduces wear-and-tear on the bullpen. It does make sense.I think the pitcher's inability to get a bunt down probably cost the Nats five games last year. Not counting the times Riggleman figured the odds against advancing the runner warranted bring in Harris or Gonzalez or Mench to flail. In the big picture, the difference between 69 and 74 wins is a lot.

  29. Connie_Mack - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    Speaking of offensive, in another sense of the word, what is the best stat to judge offensive production by a hitter?

  30. John O'Connor - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    Correlation does not imply causation. I would think that pitcher wins likely have more to do with how you, well, pitch, and how the other eight guys in the order hit.

  31. Anonymous - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    It was interesting to watch the Rox' farm hands at Tulsa (AA-Texas League). They took more than the "ordinary" amount of BP. And they had to put several bunts down in fair territory before they were done. The Rox have a systematic approach to teaching their players. I think their record in recent years speaks to that. Mattheus is a former Rox farmhand. It would be interesting to compare his performance with other Nats pitchers this spring/season.fpcsteve

  32. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    Best offensive stat? Runs Produced = Runs Scored plus RBI minus HR. No double counting. The object of the game is to score runs, knock in runners in scoring position.

  33. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 31, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Aside from the inability of our pitching staff to provide themselves any help at the plate, the thing that really riled me up was the inability to get the opposing pitcher out. I ran the numbers and by July 1st, opposing pitchers were hitting .260 against us. Two friggin sixty! I gave up keeping track at that point but I'm pretty sure the opposing pitchers ended up hitting over .240 against us. Couple that with the shear incompetence of our staff (save for Livo)and that great offensive bench, it amazes me that we won 69 games.

  34. Anonymous - Jan 31, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    Nyjer Morgan as one of the best center fielders in the game? For what, Little League?

  35. John C. - Jan 31, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    @Natsjack: Great minds think alike – at about the same time last summer that you were pondering opposing pitchers, I posted about it on Federal Baseball: http://www.federalbaseball.com/2010/7/9/1561683/struggling-to-get-pitchers-out.It was .264, with a .571 OPS. At the time, the Nats were carrying about five hitters batting worse than opposing pitchers. Good times. Also like you, I was too depressed to run the final numbers on the season.

  36. N. Cognito - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    I've often wondered if pitchers spent the offseason seriously working on bunting and hitting, and if not, why not. Last season was dreadful.

  37. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:14 PM

    So, there are at least four areas in which the Nats should/could improve by four-five games this year: (A) defense; (B) better fundamentals/bunting/moving up runners/not getting picked off (up and down the lineup); (C) getting opposing pitchers out; (D) more consistent (to the point of at least mediocrity) starting pitching. Eighty-one wins are easily in sight.

  38. Wally - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    OK, this is ridiculous so feel free to skip. I am bored at work, and reaching for new topics to pass the last few weeks ‘til ST. Here is what I came up with: the Nats are 3 players more watchable, on balance, than last year. Let me explain: in the spirit of Theophilus’s ‘I read an article 25 years ago on pitcher hits + sacs = wins’ which triggered me searching for new topics, watchability is my self-created stat that, while watching at home (not at the park where with enough hot dogs, beer and ice cream, they could redo the President’s Race 4 times with me watching each one), after the kids are in bed and the wife (or hubby) is catching up on whatever didn’t get done during the day, and so you actually have the remote to yourself with full channel-changing authority, that you actually stay on the Nats game at various points instead of searching for a rerun of Chuck. And in old-school stats style, I give pitchers full credit for the fielders (ie not Fielding Independent) but let each batter rest on his own laurels. My grade is, as I said, 3 players more watchable. On offense, 3b, SS, LF (same guys, just moving them from RF), CF and ½ of C are the same, so we really are just evaluating the remainders. Dunn was more watchable then I expect Laroche to be, but Espy, even if they removed his entire hand instead of just his hamate, is more watchable then Kennedy et al. And either Ramos or Flores is vastly more watchable than Nieves; enough so that I am awarding a full point even tho it is a backup role. We are left with the Hammer v. Werth, which is tough because I liked to watch the Hammer, but I give the nod to Shaggy (hoping he grows the beard back, too). So we are plus 2 on offense.For SP, it is kind of a mess to figure out since we trotted out so many different ones, but I am going to assume that Lannan and Marquis pitch like their EoY performance rather than redo their beginning of year, so I am going to give them a combined +1 for 2011. Livo is Livo. Class act and I love what he gave us last year, but I am going to subtract 1 from both years for the Nats making me watch him. That leaves us without 12 or so starts from Strasburg, which is probably a -2 by itself. But I think that Gorzy is going to be much more watchable than anything Atilano/Chico etc had to offer (+1), and we get a full year of Zimm (+1). So SPs are a net +1 (I know, the math is getting confusing).And the BP is a draw – losing Capps hurts; those heart attacks really got the blood moving; but the addition of the flame throwers like Rodriguez really could be exciting, so they net themselves to 0.So +3 – pretty good offseason, I think.

  39. N. Cognito - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    I stopped after the 3rd sentence. My brain hurts. :)

  40. N. Cognito - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:32 PM

    There's no way you get 10 wins out of our pitchers and opposing pitchers hitting the League norm. Waaaaay overestimated.

  41. Theophilus - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    The difference between opposing pitchers hitting .150 and .260 is 50 hits over 480 PA. That's a lot.

  42. N. Cognito - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    A team's pitchers don't get 480 PAs in a season. My quick addition tells me the Nats' pitchers had 292 ABs last year, which becomes a difference of 32 hits between .150 and .260. 32 hits by pitchers does not produce enough runs to get 10 more wins, even adding their sacrifices.Statistically I'm going to guess the difference is worth about 2 wins.

  43. Tcostant - Jan 31, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    One thing everyone needs to consider is that Ryan Zimmerman will have a worse year without Dunn's production protecting him. This is the most underestimated reported item from this offseason.

  44. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    Are you talking about Dunn's 199 K's or his abysmal BA with runners in scoring position and 2 outs?

  45. JD - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:33 PM

    Tcostant, I think that the concept of protection is more or less nonsense. You think pitchers will now walk Zim or pitch around him because they were scared of Dunn and they no longer are? I don't think so. We won't have Wil Nieves batting behind him anyway. The idea that missed bunts or pitchers hitting makes a discernible difference is also more or less nonsense (overall maybe 1 or 2 games a year). It's still mostly about pitching, hitting and defense; bunts, double switches, stolen bases are fun to dissect but they are not that big of a deal.

  46. JayB - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    Have to agree with Njack on this one. Dunn was fun and he was a great power hitter but I will not miss his K's or his lack of clutch hitting….he never seemed to hit when the game was on the line or like Njack said….two out and two on….like one hit all year it seemed…..Ryan Z will miss Dunn on the road trips but not so much in the line up. Willingham….healthy…that is a loss to the offense more than Dunn.

  47. BinM - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:52 PM

    @Theopilius: Some pitchers are better overall athletes (Drysdale, Marichal, & Don Wilson from the "old" days; Greg Maddux, Micah Owings & Carlos Zambrano, for a more current reference), while some pitchers were more "one-dimentional", shall we say (Koufax, Bert Blyleven, Gaylord Perry, or Mike Pelfrey, John Lannan & Aaron Harang as current references). [h/t to Baseball Reference & Jerry Crasnick @ESPN for references]On the current Nationals staff, Livo, Marquis & Stammen can all 'handle the bat' reasonably well; The rest, not so much. Granted, having pitchers who can lay down a sacrifice or drive an occaisional mistake helps the team, but it isn't a massive 'swing-point' for the teams success or failure, imo.

  48. Theophilus - Feb 1, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    Livo can't bunt. The reason, I think, is it involves bending. He can defend himself up there but bunting isn't part of what he does.The reason I think this is an important issue for the Nats is they are a marginal team. I.e., no margin for error. One run in the 5th is more important than the same run for Philadelphia, Cincinnati or Milwaukee. Therefore, attributes that might be marginal for the Phillies need to be sharpened for the Nats to be successful. It's not the biggest source of improvement; defense is. TB improved by a run a game on defense (not pitching, because the players were mostly the same) and went from last to first a few years ago.

  49. Anonymous8 - Feb 1, 2011 at 12:24 AM

    BinM said… On the current Nationals staff, Livo, Marquis & Stammen can all 'handle the bat' reasonably well; The rest, not so much. Granted, having pitchers who can lay down a sacrifice or drive an occaisional mistake helps the team, but it isn't a massive 'swing-point' for the teams success or failure, imo. Sadly, I am laughing because those 3 can hit and Justin Maxwell couldn't and one person on here wrote, "Well he could if he played regularly". Well, those pitchers don't play regularly and Bryce Harper only played twice a week in the Arizona Fall League.It is about preparation and the right mind set which leads me to bunting—-preparation and the right mind set.

  50. Theophilus - Feb 1, 2011 at 12:28 AM

    In re No. of AB for Nats pitchers, 292 AB over 162 games means Riggleman was pinch-hitting (or switching) in the 5th innning or earlier, most of the time. Part of that was egregious starting pitching; some, however, has to be they couldn't guard their wicket. And, as your starting pitching gets better, you have to hope that they don't have to be yanked for a PH just because there are runners on second and third in the 6th or 7th inning.

  51. BinM - Feb 1, 2011 at 12:37 AM

    @Tcostant: I agreed with your argument regarding RZim slipping after the team surrendered Dunn, then traded Willingham; Today, I'm not so sure. Werth is a faster, better-fielding replacement for 'the Hammer' defensively, and his rough equal (except for walks) offensively. And while it's difficult to replace Dunn's HR/OBP threat offensively, I hope LaRoche can come close to his overall run production (RS+RBI minus HR), and better him defensively by 15-20 runs saved over the season in 2011. If the team shows continued improvement from the back-to-back 100-loss years in '08-'09, RZim will be OK.

  52. David - Feb 1, 2011 at 1:00 AM

    Wasn’t this column about defense?For a team that was tied for last in errors, 28th in fielding % and 26th in put outs yea sure I expect the defense will be better this year because it couldn’t get much worse. Sure assist and total chances were average 13th and 12th but they should probably stay the same or improve slightly at least assist might get better. The main problem with the defense is that it really improved on the corners and not up the middle which is the most important. If Espinosa becomes a regular and Ramos does well and catches 40 to 50% of the games I think it is within reason that the Nat’s defense could be average and make a 3 or 4 game difference to the team. If Desmond has a big improvement and Morgan plays well, which I doubt both happening, the defense could be above average and you might add 2 or 3 more games to that total. As for pitchers who can handle a bat it does make a difference if you are comparing them to Daniel Cabrera or Jason Bergmann both of whom should never be allowed to have a bat in their hands. I’m pretty sure you could pull anyone from the stands and they could handle a bat better.

  53. BinM - Feb 1, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    @Theopilius: Your last paragraph opener @7:19 rang the winners' bell "It's not the biggest source of improvement; defense is". The hitting capabilities of the pitching staff should'nt be overlooked, but overall team defense is huge. Defensively…Pudge/Ramos/Flores > Pudge/Nieves/Ramos; Probably.LaRoche > Dunn at 1B; Absolutely.Espinosa > Guzman/Kennedy at 2B; Yes, in a heartbeat.Desmond '11 > Desmond '10; Probably. RZim '11 > RZim '10; Possibly. Bernadina/Morse > Willingham/Bernadina; A wash.Morgan '11 > Morgan '10; Time will tell, but a wash at worst. Werth > Bernadina/Taveras/Morse; Absolutely. In short, the team has improved (on paper, at least) at a minimum of five positions defensively, with one more probable & two being equal. If the Nationals can cut their errors to near the NL average, that could be worth 3-4 more wins at the least.

  54. Anonymous - Feb 1, 2011 at 1:11 AM

    Some pitchers are better overall athletes (Drysdale, Marichal, & Don Wilson from the "old" days; Greg Maddux, Livan Hernandez most definitely falls in this category. Let us hope that Yuniesky Maya follows suit.

  55. JaneB - Feb 1, 2011 at 2:32 AM

    Anon at 8:11, I agree. The guy always looks like he is waiting for a bus at the plate, but he is an athlete underneath there. And such a contrast from his brother on the mound… Nothing flamboyant, nothing even to indicate that he might actually get the ball over the plate. But he does and I for one am glad he does for us. Go Nats! Go Livo!,

  56. Anonymous - Feb 1, 2011 at 6:43 AM

    this is the first time the nats have actually had a full lineup to even begin to be able to "walk the walk" of playing defense and emphasizing the fundamentals

  57. Nattydread - Feb 1, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    _______________joemktg said…"On the positive side regarding the IF defense: their collective range has dramatically improved. The lateral quickness on the left side is proven, and the Espinosa/LaRoche combo on the right side is a 180 degree range improvement over last year's combinations. If it's not going to get caught, then those grounders are at least going to be knocked down, and that's going to prevent runners from advancing beyond one base."Rizzo went for Laroche over Dunn because Laroche makes the entire infield better. He wasn't impressed by Dunn's "efforts" to improve his defense. A good first baseman with mobility and range picks up a lot of the hurried throws which all of our young IF have a propensity to make.

  58. Anonymous - Feb 1, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    Morning everyone.@Wally, I kind of like the "watchability" factor as another sort of barometer to judge the team. But since I'm on the "perfectly happy that Dunn's gone" side of things, here's the argument as to why LaRoche will be more watchable:- Same # of RBIs, much better defense, same # of RBIs, much better defense…- Zimmy's a wash. I've heard the whole "less protection" thing but I saw Zimmy get pitched around at least 10 times last year to get to Dunn. At worst, that's going to be a wash again this year.- Strike-outs plus over-shifted infield = me gritting my teeth harder than ever on every Dunn at bat. Dunn's AB's are actually painful to watch for me – his odds of getting a base hit are less because he's got less area to put the ball in. So you're constantly waiting for something big to happen and that's painful when the outcome is much more likely to be a K, a big 'ole major league pop fly, or a DP. We'll still see a lot of K's with LaRoche but at least we've got the whole field to watch.Natslifer

  59. sunderland - Feb 1, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    Wally:I liked the watchability post.I'd suggest maybe we get one more watchability point for this year's bench compared to last year's bench.2010 – Harris, Nieves, Gonzo, JMax +12011 – Ankiel, Ramos, Hairston, Morse +1

  60. Anonymous - Feb 1, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    I like Desmond's athleticism, but Desmond has simply never been able to make the plays at SS at any level. He might be able to get it together, but the odds are long that after something like 6 years in pro ball all as a SS that he gets it together all of a sudden now. They need a short leash on that kid. They lost game after game last year because he could not make plays that SS's in MLB have to make. This rotation more than most cannot give away any outs. There had to be a Plan B for SS ready to go from day 1.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 91 64 --
ATLANTA 76 79 15.0
NEW YORK 76 80 15.5
MIAMI 74 81 17.0
PHILADELPHIA 71 85 20.5
x-Clinched NL East title
Through Sunday's games

NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS

W L GB WCGB
x-WASHINGTON (4) 91 64 --
y-LOS ANGELES 89 67 2.5
y-ST. LOUIS 87 68 4.0
-------------------------
SAN FRANCISCO 84 71 7.0 --
PITTSBURGH 84 71 7.0 --
MILWAUKEE 80 76 11.5 4.5
x-Clinched division title
y-Clinched playoff berth
Through Sunday's early games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
MON: OFF
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Marlins at Nats (DH), 1:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Marlins at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Marlins at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
Full season schedule

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WED: 4:30 p.m.
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