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Williams contemplating lineup construction

Dec 11, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As he has begun to learn the Nationals’ personnel over the last month-plus, Matt Williams has begun scribbling out starting lineups in his mind.

Along the way, Washington’s new manager has come to a realization: He’s got plenty of choices.

“The good thing about it is we have those options,” Williams said Tuesday during his media session at the Winter Meetings. “That’s a really nice feeling, to have guys that you can interchange, if you need to, that are comfortable hitting in the middle of a major league lineup and have success doing it. All of those things point to a good lineup and something that we, as a staff, can use very well.”

Davey Johnson opened 2013 with a lineup he believed would hold up well through the entire season: Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Pitcher.

Along the way, though, the former manager had to make several tweaks for a variety of reasons. Werth, Harper and Ramos suffered injuries. LaRoche struggled. Espinosa was demoted to the minors and replaced by rookie Anthony Rendon.

By season’s end, Johnson’s lineup had a distinctly different look: Span, Zimmerman, Werth, Harper, Desmond, LaRoche, Ramos, Rendon, Pitcher.

So, what does Williams have in mind? Will he stick with something similar to his predecessor, or does he envision a completely different look?

“My pitcher is going to hit ninth,” the rookie skipper said with a laugh. “I know that much.”

Williams did share a few other thoughts. Span will continue to lead off, hoping to build off his strong second-half performance.

“Certainly you don’t argue with Denard leading off,” Williams said. “We think of him in that role.”

The No. 2 spot is where things start to get interesting. Williams has no shortage of options. He suggested he could use either of his middle infielders: Desmond or Rendon. He could take advantage of Werth’s high on-base percentage and ability to work the count. He could keep Zimmerman in a spot that, while unconventional, helped the veteran third baseman turn into baseball’s most-productive slugger in September.

And then there’s Harper, who dazzled as a rookie batting second but was moved down into the heart of the order as a sophomore, with Johnson trying to take advantage of the 21-year-old’s immense power potential.

Then again, Harper also possesses rare speed for an elite power hitter.

“I want to put Bryce in a position that he can steal a base if he wants to,” Williams said. “Where is that? It could be a number of places.”

Williams prefers to break up his left-handed hitters if possible, so somebody (most likely Zimmerman or Werth) figures to bat in between Harper and LaRoche. He also, in an ideal world, would like to maintain a consistent heart of the order, not moving guys around unless necessary.

“I want to make sure that my guys that are in the middle of the lineup are comfortable in the middle of the lineup and stay there for the majority of the time,” he said. “You have things that you can do to stack against a certain pitcher. But for the most part, I want my guys to be in the position where they’re comfortable, it’s stable to them and they can play the game.”

Suffice it to say, lineup construction remains a work-in-progress for Williams. Fortunately, he still has four months to figure it all out.

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    I agree with those that have Desmond in the 5 or 6. He’s best when he’s aggressive and the 2 hole is for a more patient hitter who can also hit right side when the 1st baseman is holding Span on and especially when Span is on 2nd with no outs.

    When McLouth is in the lineup he will be perfect in the 2 hole and in the regular lineup I think it will be Werth with his high OBP and his ability to move baserunners up.

    I’d have Harper 3rd and RZim 4th. From there its dependent on how LaRoche is swinging the bat. I wouldn’t mind Ramos or Desmond in the 5 and 6 followed by Rendon.

    • DaveB - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:40 AM

      Werth has enough influence that I don’t think Matt is going to want to tick him off to start the season, and reading between the lines, my guess is that after his resurgence last season, Jason is going to want the respect of hitting 3-5. That will make it trickier for Matt to have an ideal lineup (and to say anything meaningful now).

      • scbilly - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:48 AM

        If Williams makes lineup decisions based on avoiding ticking off influential players, Rizzo hired the wrong guy. Might as well sell the team to Dan Snyder at that point.

      • Sonny G 10 - Dec 11, 2013 at 2:05 PM

        I don’t think Werth or any of the other players have enough influence to sway Matt into doing something he doesn’t want to do. I think Matt will kick ass and take names if he has to, and Rizzo will back him up IMO.

  2. Hiram Hover - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Sounds to me like Williams is saying that he’s … not saying anything.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:29 AM

      Hiram, sure, the pitcher bats 9th.

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:35 AM

        The National League will never be the same!

  3. edshelton2013 - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    At Williams’ press conference, he stated that “if we score three runs a game, we’ve got a good chance (to win)”.
    We averaged just over 4 runs a game last year and won 86 games.
    Is he counting on Fister and any other pitching additions to hold opponents to two runs or less? Does this make sense?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:52 AM

      I thinks he’s referring to all those 2 and 1 run games.

    • scbilly - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      Averages can be deceiving (the fact that the average income in the elevator jumps when Bill Gates walks in doesn’t really help anyone else). The Nats had a pretty good record in the games where we scored 3 or more.

  4. trochlis318 - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    So ready for this lineup,

    Span

    Werth

    Harper

    Zimmerman

    LaRoche

    Desmond

    Ramos

    Rendon

    Pitcher

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:55 AM

      That looks about right if LaRoche is hitting.

      • trochlis318 - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM

        true, but if you really want to make it interesting the lineup i would go with for the most production:

        Werth

        Harper

        Zimmerman

        Desmond

        Ramos

        LaRoche

        Rendon

        Pitcher

        Span

        Weird i know just an interesting idea.

  5. sjm308 - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Span
    Rendon
    Harper
    Zimmerman
    Werth
    Desmond
    Ramos
    LaRoche
    Pitcher

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:18 AM

      I wonder how long Matty will wait for players to get going. Davey had the patience of a Saint, and wasn’t rewarded for it.

  6. sjm308 - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    Torchlit- I actually like the idea of the pitcher 8th & Span 9th if you could sell it to Span. Once through the lineup it gives Williams more flexibility in making double switches and provides great base runners at the top and bottom of the lineup.

  7. sjm308 - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Man did my auto spell butcher Trochlis

  8. Sam - Dec 11, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    Typically, I would go through a rant about how the best sabermetric lineup says to hit your best hitter #2, your best raw-OBP guy #1, your best power guy #4, etc. However, I was enlightened a few days ago by the fact that the best sabermetric lineup presumes that each player is performing to the best of their abilities. Players, however, are humans who are subject to their environment. Therefore, it is important to maintain their utmost comfort to allow them to perform to their potential. In other words, because the difference between the most optimal and least optimal sabermetric lineups is smaller than the negative impact of putting players in uncomfortable positions.

    What I am more concerned about is the mentality of the team. Batting a middle infielder second because he’s fast and can “advance a runner” is exactly the philosophy that I do NOT want.

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:39 AM

      Agree to a point. There’s a balance to be struck between what players and what makes them feel comfortable, on the one hand, and what the team needs, on the other.

      A manager has to take into consideration what his players want, but ultimately players have to do what they’re told. Nobody is entitled to a particular spot in the batting order, or to play major league baseball, period (I’m looking at you, Danny E).

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:44 AM

      +1

  9. tcostant - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Whatever you do, don’t hit Desi second. Lesson already learned.

    • sjm308 - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:21 AM

      agreed

  10. #4 - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    I would bat Rendon second and LaRoche 6th or 7th. Rendon will bust out this year and is the type of high OBP guy with a bit of pop you want in that spot. He will get lots of fastballs hitting behind Span (if he’s getting on base). LaRoche is on the down hill side of his career. He’s still a solid LH power bat you want in your line-up. It’s just time for him to face that he’s not a 3-4-5 guy anymore.

    Span
    Rendon
    Harper
    Zim
    Werth
    Desmond
    LaRoche
    Ramos

    • trochlis318 - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      i think you mean break out right?

  11. David Proctor - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    It’s not so much worrying about upsetting Werth as it is wasting his talents. Him hitting leadoff in ’12 worked so well because he had no power after the broken wrist. But with the exception 2012, he’s hit at least 20 home runs every year since 2007. He needs to be in a position with men on base to drive in runs. 3-5 is the best fit for him.

  12. trochlis318 - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Also it sounds like that we will know the lefty reliever for the nats by later today per Adam Kilgore

  13. trochlis318 - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    For everybody thinking of putting Rendon second in the lineup i think he is a very traditional 2nd hitter good contact walks alot not really the HR power, decent speed i think he will eventually hit 2nd but next season he will really only be a .350 OBP player and i know OBP isn’t everything but we have better options both production and OBP wise in Harper and Werth, even zimmerman if he hits to his career averages is a better 2 this next year then rendon imo. Just my thought process as to why i didn’t have him second.

  14. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    “@Ken_Rosenthal: #Nationals still expect to find LH reliever soon. Trade for #Athletics’ Blevins possible. Downs, Howell, Logan, O’Flaherty are FAs in play.”

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 11, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      So in other words, to get the deal he wants, Rizzo is putting it out there that he has plenty of options and may be on the cusp of making another deal.

    • David Proctor - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      The issue with Blevins is he has reverse splits. His numbers against lefties are still good (he’s not Abad) but still…

      • David Proctor - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:07 AM

        Well, the reverse splits are for 2013. He has normal career splits.

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:09 AM

        That was true in 2013 but not in 2012 or over his career as a whole.

      • Hiram Hover - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:14 AM

        DP – I owe you a cyber-beer.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:08 AM

      In 2013, Blevins might be LH but lefties hit him at a .253 BA and .741 OPS while RHPs hit him at a .190 BA and a .581 OPS. That doesn’t look like a pitcher the Nats want unless he’s pitching to righties.

      Blevins 2013 was certainly a reversal to his career.

      Another strange phenomena with Blevins is that he pitched much better on the road then in pitcher friendly Oakland.

      Blevins finished 2013 strong and that’s what Rizzo might be looking at.

      Blevins has question marks and his LH/LH splits are alarming. I say pass.

  15. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    Like Sam @ 9:25 a.m., I too am attracted to the notion of an ideal batting order based on a combination of OBP and OPS. Along those lines, a couple of off-seasons ago I recall suggesting that Ryan Zimmerman bat second, a suggestion that was met with — shall we say — polite skepticism, but which worked pretty well once he was put in that spot last season (albeit too late to make a difference for the team). That said, let’s remember that batting order accounts for maybe — and here I’m being generous — a couple of wins a year. I’m not going to get hung up over the difference between 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, or 5/6.

    What’s much more important to me, particularly after the team’s 2013 experience, is the manager being willing to make changes when it’s obvious that someone isn’t hitting well (or at all). It’s one thing to trust your players and let them play through a dry spell, but it’s another to ignore reality for weeks (months?) at a time. Denard Span is, more-or-less, an ideal leadoff hitter — except when he’s not. But last season, when Mr. Span was in an extended OBP slump, the team insisted on keeping him in the leadoff slot for much, much too long. Similarly, Adam LaRoche was kept in the 4/5 position for over 100 games when it was clear he wasn’t getting the job done. My hope is that the new manager will prove willing to move batters around (okay, within their ‘comfort zone’) to take account of how well (or not) they’re hitting. Please don’t get hung up over who ‘fits’ a particular image (e.g., scrappy two-slot hitter, hairy-chested slugger).

  16. David Proctor - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    James Wagner ‏@JamesWagnerWP 34s
    It appears contact between the Nats and Athletics was the Nats asking. A’s sound happy with their bullpen.

    Adam Kilgore ‏@AdamKilgoreWP 1m
    The Nats are still in the mix for Scott Downs, person familiar with the situation said.

    Downs is fine, but he doesn’t sound like what Williams wants. He’s a pure LOOGY. Williams wants someone who can get both righties and lefties out.

  17. David Proctor - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Yunesky Maya has signed with the Braves…

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:25 AM

      Organizational filler with the hopes they can teach him to pitch better.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:38 AM

      One can only hope that he’s on their major-league roster and in their rotation (both extremely doubtful) when the Nats are playing them.

  18. Section 222 - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    This team has 5 “middle of the order type” guys — Harper, Zim, ALR (if he’s hitting), Desi, and Werth. Truth be told, Ramos could be in that category too. I wouldn’t start ALR in 4 or 5 this year. He hasn’t earned it, and we might as well take the pressure off a little at the beginning of the season. He bats sixth in my opening day lineup.

    Harper, Zim, or Werth work very well as No. 2. Frankly, I think Harper and Werth both work well as No. 1 too, and I hope Williams doesn’t stick with Span there after the first month if he isn’t “build[ing] off his strong second half performance.” We can’t afford a liability at the top of the order for half season like we had last year. Werth is the more patient hitter, but Harper is a lefty, which is a big advantage with a man on 1st. Of course, that would put two lefties together at the top of the order, which is a disadvantage in the late innings.

    I also think we should ride Werth’s rejuvenated power and XBH ability for as long as it lasts and not have him change his approach to hit the behind the runner. So that leaves Zim, who (1) did really well batting second at the end of last year; and (2) is a natural opposite field hitter.

    So my O.D. lineup would be:

    Span
    Harper
    Werth
    Zim
    Desi
    ALR
    Ramos
    Rendon

    Against LH starters, you flip ALR and Ramos.

    If Williams really is uncomfortable with two lefties at the top, and I can understand why he would be until Harper shows he can hit LH pitching, I’d go with:

    Span
    Zim
    Harper
    Werth
    Desi
    ALR
    Ramos
    Rendon

    One final caveat. Remember when Desi had a horrible time batting 8th? That may have been because he’s not a patient hitter, and he couldn’t lay off the bad pitches he saw because the pitcher was next up. But Ramos seems to hit just fine there, and I expect Rendon will too, with his excellent batting eye and patience. But if he has problems, I wouldn’t have a problem with moving Ramos back down to 8th and batting Rendon 7th. Rendon is headed for the No. 2 spot at some point in his career.

    • snerdblurter - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      This second one really jumps out at me, especially if we’re still flipping ALR/Ramos against lefty starters.

  19. wjskinner - Dec 11, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    I prefer this lineup for now and reject the idea that power is wasted in the 2 hole — I susbscribe to the theories discussed here : http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130405&content_id=43974688&vkey=news_min&c_id=min ):

    Span
    Werth
    Harper
    Zimm
    Desmond
    Laroche
    Ramos
    Rendon
    P

    If Rendon hits as well as he is projected you could move him up to 2 and slide everyone else down:

    Span
    Rendon
    Werth
    Harper
    Zimm
    Desmond
    Laroche
    Ramos

    or:

    Span
    Rendon
    Harper
    Zimm
    Werth
    Desmond
    Laroche
    Ramos

  20. realdealnats - Dec 11, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    Span
    Werth
    Zim
    Harp
    Desmond
    La Roche
    Rendon
    Ramos

    I like Werth 2nd b/c he’s patient and will look at a lot of pitches if need be. Yeah he has power and if homers in the first inning that’s good right.

    Zim/Harp for me can be interchanged here. Zim at 3 separates LHed bats. Harp at 3 gets a LHed bat up hopefully with one or two on base hitting keeping 1B honest. Plus Harp did really well year 1 following Werth.

    I like ALR moving down the order. If he hits for power that’s gravy, but he doesn’t deserve 3-4-5.

    I like Rendon in front of Ramos b/c I agree he’s only going to get better as a hitter, and I like the idea of Ramos knocking Rendon and himself in with those towering homers.

  21. Manassas Nats Fan - Dec 11, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    My line up.

    Span
    Werth
    Harper
    Zimmerman
    Desi
    Ramos
    ALR
    Rendon

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