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Decision time

Jun 30, 2014, 12:00 AM EST

AP AP

For more than two months, Matt Williams has been waiting to fill out a lineup card that includes Bryce Harper in it. And for several weeks, the Nationals’ first-time manager has been contemplating just how much he wants to shake up the rest of his lineup as a result of Harper’s return.

The time has finally come. Harper, out since April 26 with a torn ligament in his left thumb, is expected to be activated off the disabled list today and play for the Nationals tonight in their homestand opener against the Rockies. Williams, who has gone out of his way not to reveal his plan moving forward in advance, must now make the decision so many have anticipated and debated.

You know what, though? This really isn’t a difficult decision at all.

Bryce Harper needs to play left field. Ryan Zimmerman needs to play third base. Anthony Rendon needs to play second base. And Danny Espinosa needs to return to the bench.

There are all sorts of ways to make this dilemma more complex than that, and certainly there are legitimate reasons to contemplate other scenarios because of the ongoing question of Zimmerman’s ability to throw a baseball with velocity and accuracy.

But in the end, it really boils down to this simple truth: The Nationals have to put Zimmerman back at third base and find out once and for all whether he can play his natural position at a level satisfactory enough to make all the other scenarios moot. Because if he can, the Nats are a much better ballclub.

This is the team Williams and Mike Rizzo assembled over the winter. This is how they expected to play out 2014, with Zimmerman at third, Adam LaRoche at first, Rendon at second, Harper in left and Denard Span in center. It is their best all-around alignment, certainly their best offensive alignment.

To refuse to move Zimmerman back to the infield is to completely alter the original plan, and to field a lineup that while perhaps better from a defensive standpoint would be severely diminished from an offensive one.

If Zimmerman can only play left field, then Harper must play center field, and Span must be benched and Danny Espinosa must play second base. The Nationals’ infield defense would be fantastic, but their outfield defense would be suspect, with Harper forced to shoulder far more of the load than he should sandwiched between a novice left fielder (Zimmerman) and an aging right fielder (Jayson Werth).

More significantly, though, the Nationals’ offensive capabilities would take a huge hit. Espinosa may be brilliant in the field, but he simply isn’t productive enough at the plate to merit a spot in the everyday lineup. Nor is there any reason to believe he will become productive enough.

Over the last two seasons, Espinosa’s numbers are abysmal: a .194 batting average, .249 on-base percentage, .567 OPS, 140 strikeouts and 19 walks in 435 plate appearances. The numbers are even worse from the left side of the plate: a .184 average, .226 OBP and .515 OPS. He has been given every opportunity to prove he can do better, and he has not shown he can do it.

Which isn’t to say Espinosa can’t still be a significant contributor to this team this year. Against left-handers, he should play, taking advantage of his career .793 OPS as a right-handed hitter. And when the Nationals hold a late lead, he should play, pushing Rendon to third base and bumping Zimmerman to the bench, strictly for defensive purposes.

But to suggest Espinosa deserves more playing time than Span is to ignore the facts. Span may not be a perfect leadoff man, and he may not draw enough walks to raise his on-base percentage to at least a league-average standard. But he remains a productive offensive player, ranking third in the NL in both doubles and triples, on pace for 50 two-baggers and 10 three-baggers this season. Most importantly, he puts the ball in play (his strikeout rate is a miniscule 9.4 percent), something Espinosa (34.7 percent) simply doesn’t do enough.

And Span’s defense in center field — despite whatever advanced metrics whose calculators themselves admit aren’t entirely accurate over anything less than a 2- or 3-year period say — remains excellent. How many times in 1 1/2 seasons in Washington have you watched a ball hit in his direction and remarked: “Boy, Span really should’ve made that play, but he didn’t”? You probably need only one hand to count them.

What if Zimmerman can’t play third base, you ask? Well, how will the Nationals ever know for sure unless they try?

Look, it may prove to be untenable. Zimmerman may launch throws into the grandstand and dugout, and he may cost his team some runs, perhaps even a game or two. And if that happens, then the Nationals need to adjust. Even in a best-case scenario, he should play left field and first base some of the time, when matchups dictate it. In a worst-case scenario, he’ll have to be kept away from the position he played his entire career until earlier this month, at which point the Nats will have no choice but to play Espinosa and bench Span.

But the Nationals owe it to themselves, to Zimmerman, to everyone, to give this a try. He may not prefer it, but he has consistently said he’ll do whatever best helps this team win.

And right now, at this moment, with the entire roster healthy at long last, the Nationals’ best chance of winning is with Ryan Zimmerman at third base.

149 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    Damn Ryan must have said something funny in that pic.

    • chazzmichaelmichaelzz - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      The picture looks like it was taken during the National Anthem. Maybe somebody botched it…

  2. David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:55 AM

    “The Nationals’ infield defense would be fantastic, but their outfield defense would be suspect, with Harper forced to shoulder far more of the load than he should sandwiched between a novice left fielder (Zimmerman) and an aging right fielder (Jayson Werth).”

    This I disagree with. He played CF with Michael Morse in left and Werth in right in 2012. Now Werth has lost a step or ten, but Morse did not have the range out there that Ryan has. I think it evens out. But I do agree that we need Span in the lineup..or really, we need Espi OUT of the lineup. Span just happens to be the least bad offensive option.

  3. natsguy - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:02 AM

    Well one thing it will be interesting.

  4. richardlee22304 - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:13 AM

    I think that if Zimmerman shows that he can not play at 3rd base any longer they need to trade for a quality 2nd baseball and keep Rendon at 3rd. Ryan has been a good defensive left fielder but his throws to the infield are not good enough. Even a first baseman needs to throw now and then, so maybe they can talk to him about going to the AL to be a DH, he still has a great bat. I would like to see the Nats keep Laroche beyond this year so really there would be no position for Ryan. They have a lot of depth to use to get a 2nd baseman.

    • TimDz - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:08 AM

      They can TALK to Ryan all they want about a trade to the AL….unfortunately, the contract he signed (this is year one of six) has a significant escalation clause if he were to be traded (his salary jumps from 13 million to 20 million….or something on that scale).
      While I agree that such a trade would be a good thing, the contract structure makes it difficult…..if not down right impossible….

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:30 AM

        I agree with you,Dz. Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

      • texnat1 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:47 AM

        I agree as well, but it is possible that he would agree if he were traded to a contender. He doesn’t look like he is having as much fun playing the game with his arm troubles. And if you could trade him to some place like Texas, he might be interested.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        The point is, it would cost the Lerners 8 FIGURES A YEAR to do it.
        Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

  5. laddieblahblah - Jun 30, 2014 at 4:28 AM

    Whatever decision Matt makes he can reverse. Zim’s arm worked well enough in the 2nd half last year, about the same time that his bat began to work. Seemed a magical recovery, or, perhaps, a medical cortisone miracle, at the time.

    Great pitching and defense have gotten them to 5 games over .500, not nearly as well as I had expected on opening day. They don’t score enough runs, and lose a disproportionate number of 1-run games. Pitching and defense was supposed to do it, but it is not enough.

    Other than La Roche, no offensive player has been constantly good this year, and some have been reliably awful. It’s not just Danny, either. Desmond is on pace to strike out 200 times this year, even more than Espinosa did when he led the league a couple of years ago. Ian is hitting 40 points below his career average, about 50 points below last year’s average, and 60 points below his 2012 average.

    Ryan has been a weak hitter since his return from the DL. Werth, after a great start, has been in a long slump. Lobaton has not hit in Ramos’ absence. Rendon has good numbers, but he was missing for almost all of May. Span has been streaky.

    The Nats need to have Harper, or Ramos, or both, juice up their anemic middle of the order lineup. That has been their most consistent offensive problem. Their leading RBI guys are at the top of the order (Rendon) and near the bottom (Desmond). Replacing Espinosa’s bat will help the offense, but not nearly as much as getting better production out of Werth, Zim, and Desi, as well as adding a healthy Harper and Ramos to the mix in the middle.

    This team needs to wake up. The season is half over, it has the best pitching staff in baseball, and is playing a superb overall defensive game, but can’t pull away in the weak NL East. They need some intensity, and Harper has that in abundance. If his return doesn’t provide a spark, they may “what, me worry” themselves all the way to late August, just as they did, last year.

    Right now, the best thing they have going for them is that the rest of the division does not appear capable of taking advantage of the opportunity the Nats’ weak offense is providing to them. An 86-win season may be enough to get the Nats the NL East title. They have shown they can do that on pitching and defense, alone, because they just spent half a season proving it.

    With their full lineup finally intact, their full rotation finally healthy and rolling, the pen mowing them down, and the defense stifling the opposition, they should be a dominant team. That’s what I think, and they should settle for nothing less, themselves.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 7:46 AM

      Gonna disagree with a some of the above.

      –The Nats haven’t lost a “disproportionate” number of one-run games. They are 9-13 (.409). Given that one-run games are basically a coin-flip, that’s not statistically weird. They are 2-7 in extra-inning games, but again, small sample size.

      –Since May 25, when LaRoche returned to the lineup, the Nats are 19-12 (.612). Since June 3, when Zim returned to the lineup, the Nats are 16-9 (.640). I think the team “woke up” a month ago.

      –It’s difficult to say if Ramos called poor games on June 26 and 27, but it’s hard to fault his offense in the three games since his return, 4 for 10 with one HR, 2 walks and one strikeout.

      –On May 24 the Nats were 24-25 and 3.5 games back. They’ve now improved to 43-38 and 1/2 game back (zero games in the loss column). All of this is without Harper and with less-than-stellar pitching by our Ace in his last three starts.

      • chaz11963 - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:32 AM

        Well put, my sentiments exactly. I think the Nats did admirable job of “hanging in there” (with the Barves help) through an abysmal May and began to become the team we have all anticipated in June. With everyone back and healthy, we should see continued improvement in July. Although, it seems we were lucky with Ramos’ immediate contribution to the offense, and although we see signs Bryce may do the same, it still may take some time for Bryce (like Zim). I hope not, and it doesn’t appear so from his rehab time, but just a word of caution…

      • dcwx61 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:10 AM

        +1

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        A coin flip is a 50-50 proposition, 9-13 is not.

        I have looked at the A’s lineup, and, on paper, they do not beat anyone, but they are loaded with guys who just dare you to go ahead, and try and beat them – just try. They are the mirror image of the Nats, and have a disproportionately winning record in 1-run games. The Nats have that same lame attitude of so what if we lose, we can go against you later, and let you beat us again, or maybe not.

        Imagine telling Bob Gibson that if you lose 3 of 4 to your biggest rival, you would still be only 1/2 game behind at the end of a series. Can you just imagine the look from Bob Gibson. Or Earl Weaver, or Babe Ruth, or Lawrence Taylor, or Ray Lewis, or Riggo, or (God help you) Dick Butkus.

        The FoF reminds me of Mr. Peepers. Nothing wrong with Mr. Peepers, if you want someone to keep the library index in order. Bob Gibson scared the bejeebers out of his own catcher, if you believe Tim McCarver. He would love to pitch against these Nats in a championship game.

        The Nats have way underperformed in the first half, IMO. I am hopeful that Harper will provide them with a competitive intensity that has been lacking. Watch the A’s if you want to see a real life example of what they have, and the Nats do not.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:34 AM

        “Since May 25, when LaRoche returned to the lineup, the Nats are 19-12 (.612).”

        That is no accident. He has been the one consistent offensive performer, as I pointed out. So where is your disagreement with my own observations there?

        “Since June 3, when Zim returned to the lineup, the Nats are 16-9 (.640). I think the team “woke up” a month ago.”

        The Nats have also got back Gio, and Fister has been pitching lights out. Zim has been a hole in the middle of the lineup since his return. The Nats have been winning with excellent pitching and defense. Zim has had little offensive impact, except for hitting into double plays and striking out with RISP. He won that one marathon in Milwaukee, but would not even have had that chance if Rendon hadn’t come through in the 8th of that game.

        “It’s difficult to say if Ramos called poor games on June 26 and 27, but it’s hard to fault his offense in the three games since his return, 4 for 10 with one HR, 2 walks and one strikeout.”

        Who is faulting Ramos’ performance since his return? Not I. Reread my post.

        “They’ve now improved to 43-38 and 1/2 game back (zero games in the loss column). All of this is without Harper and with less-than-stellar pitching by our Ace in his last three starts.”

        Low expectations, and the good fortune to have the equally under-performing Braves and the Marlins as your chief opponents, and not the A’s. The Nats do not scare anyone. Ask the last place Cubs. Better yet, look at what happened in Oakland when they faced a team which seemed to hold them in utter contempt. They did not just beat up on the Nats, they relished it, and the Nats just took it and liked it.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        Laddie, this “psychological” stuff does nothing for me. The A’s are a good team. They didn’t just play well against the Nats, they play well against EVERY team, maybe that’s why they have the best record in MLB. Over the weekend the Cards played stupidly against the Dodgers, whom they CRUSHED last year in the postseason.

        I put a lot more stock in health, talent, team cohesiveness, fatigue, travel schedules, even in the managers and coaches. If teams are intimidated by other teams then they are not major-leaguer teams. The rest is fan nonsense and projection of fan feelings on to the team. I’m not buying it AT ALL.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:40 PM

        Speaking of tough guys named Gibson, how about them DBax? Don’t get me wrong, I think attitude is relevant, but teams with great attitudes lose, too.

        Coin flips are 50-50 in the aggregate, but 22 flips could easily come up 9-13, which was the point.

  6. wskyrnr21 - Jun 30, 2014 at 7:09 AM

    It is totally naive to even suspect that Zimmerman plays at an acceptable level at 3rd base! He bounces balls to the cut off man in the outfield or several bounces to 2nd base. It would be in the best interest of the team and the best case scenario BUT he has admitted his days at 3rd are behind him.

    Rizzo has to have his head examined. What was he thinking when he penned Zimmerman to a long term deal knowing that his shoulder was compromised? Some of these decisions rattle my brain, along with forcing the Espinosa experiment. He had some worth when he was only striking out 2/3 of the time now he is useless. I really loved it when they talked about keeping him on the right side of the plate but Espinosa would have to approve of the switch first? Who is paying this guy?

    Rizzo put this team together and the success or failure of such decisions rest solely on his shoulders.

    • adcwonk - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:38 AM

      Three last place finishes in a row, to finishing 1st, 2d, and right now tied for first. Needs his head examined.

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:01 AM

      So if I’m following

      1. Zim should NEVER go back to 3B.
      2. Espinosa is useless and should not be on the team.
      3. Since both Zim and Espi are now banished, I guess this means Rendon plays both 3B and 2B at the same time.

      Question:

      On a 5-4-3 double play, when Rendon is running to 2B to catch the throw he just made from 3B, does he run in front of Desi, or behind him?

    • kirbs3256 - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:17 PM

      Pretty sure he was thinking that Zim would play 1B for 8 years.

  7. Nats fool - Jun 30, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    I reluctantly agree with Mark. We have to see if we can get Espinosa out of the lineup. Two players in the bottom third of our lineup are in the top 10 in strikeouts. As to what we do if Zimm just can’t make the throw, I do believe we should put Harper in center. He seemed to thrive in that position, though there will be a defensive hit. You then have one of two choices – trade for an offensively adequate 2nd or 3rd base. You’re not going to get an all-star, but at the upper range of possible is Kinsler, Zobrist, Pedroia (which is probably not possible but whose plate approach would be the antidote for our offensive problems). A lot of teams need pitching.

  8. natsjackinfl - Jun 30, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Glad to see that the site has attracted more posters that don’t need to watch how this plays out.

    Their opinions have no bearing on how this Nats fan will enjoy the second half of the season which will provide probable injuries, slumps and hot streaks by many players and losses to teams with worse records and wins against teams with better record.

    Too bad their opinions will keep them from the pure joy that makes up a complete baseball season.

    • alexva6 - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      for some sports is an opportunity to predict the future, for others a chance to enjoy the art of it all.

      just because you are in the latter group you shouldn’t presume that those in the former don’t get joy from their folly

  9. thelatencn - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    Thank you, Mark, for a professional, rational analysis. It shows why you get paid to comment on such things, while the contributors to this, or any other blog, don’t.

    For months now, we have been making excuses for the Nats (supposedly) worse-than-anticipated performance, and again and again have advanced the exccuse that begins, “We;ve only had our whole opening day lineup on the field for 7 innings all year…”

    Today, the eighth inning will be played, and hopefully many, many more for the second half of the season. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it goes.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      +1

  10. thelatencn - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    Thank you, Mark, for a professional, rational analysis. It shows why you get paid to comment on such things, while the contributors to this, or any other blog, don’t.

    For months now, we have been making excuses for the Nats (supposedly) worse-than-anticipated performance, and again and again have advanced the exccuse that begins, “We;ve only had our whole opening day lineup on the field for 7 innings all year…”

    Today, the eighth inning will be played, and hopefully many, many more for the second half of the season. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it goes.

  11. chaz11963 - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    This is a very well written analysis and opinion Mark. We have all been debating for weeks about what MW will do when Bryce gets back. Well, it actually is very simple, we get back to the original plan and lineup. The same plan and lineup that had everyone picking the Nats as the hands down favorite to win the NL East and be a favorite for a World Series bid. Nothing has changed, except we finally have everyone back. Zim’s should plans will beed to be assessed after performing. They have to give him a chance back at 3B because of what it means for the team overall- they are simply at their overall best if Ryan can play 3B adequately. Doesn;’t mean he is the Gold Glove he used to be there, but just at a league average level would be sufficient. They can always move Rendon back there and put Danny at 2B in late innings when better defense is needed, or when match-ups dictate it.

    I’m very excited to see what they can do with everyone finally back.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      Great post,chaz.I agree with you 100%

      • Another_Sam - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:34 AM

        Same here, Seam. I agree with all this. Nothing has changed except the lineup is intacrt once again.

        My thoughts — these guys aren’t utility players. They have set positions. RZ is the third baseman. BH is the left fielder. AntRen is the second baseman. That’s clear to me. IMHO I think the solution is liberal use of the defensive replacement at third — AntRen to third, DE off the pine and in at 2b after RZ has batted a few times. There’s no debate on RZ’s throwing.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      I would agree with you if Zimm were a “league average” third baseman. Unfortunately, I doubt he is, at this point.

      It will be interesting to see how Harper fares against three lefties. He may struggle, but there are always middle relievers…

    • dcwx61 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      +1 Gonna be fun to watch the big boys hit together

    • texnat1 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      We shall see what happens, and I don’t have a problem with trying him there, but Zim is not even close to being a league average defensive 3B. Try single worst in the league on for size.

  12. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    Much as “chemistry” is pooh-poohed, I think the last month shows that having Zim (and LaRoche) in the lineup gives this team a winning chemistry. I see Mark’s point, but if Rendon is forced off 3B for any length of time, you are making not one but two players unhappy (not that Rendon would ever show it). Werth is tired or injured or both, and probably so is Desi.

    There are thirteen games before the All-Star Break.

    Colorado (.439)
    Cubs (.425)
    O’s (.519) – The O’s always give us trouble, but two of the games will have the DH, so that solves that problem.
    Phillies (.439)

    You can’t ask for an easier schedule, with the furthest travel a bus ride to Philly and an off-day on Thursday before the morning game on July 4.

    Tonight we see a rookie lefty (Flande) who did not fare well in his first start. Tomorrow another lefty (Friedrich) who hasn’t pitched well in his two starts, and another chancy lefty (Matzek) on Wednesday. If Danny plays, he’ll be hitting from the right side, where he’s averaging .277.

    Two of their best hitters (Cuddyer and Car-Go) are on the DL. Tulo is slashing .313/.404/.354 over the last two weeks, BUT, he hasn’t hit a homer, not even at Coors, and the Rox are 2-11 in that stretch.

    Our sixth starter beat the Cubs’ Ace. Our seventh starter is in the bullpen throwing scoreless innings. (Whatever his adjustment problems were, he’s apparently solved them. From May 28 to June 28, Detwiler’s ERA is 1.98, he’s given up 3 runs in 13.2 innings, and he has a SAVE, plus he was the hero of the 16 inning game).

    All signals are go, so let’s do this, boys!

    • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      And your evidence that Rendon would be “unhappy” playing 2B is what?

      I thought so. Rendon is happy to play anywhere. He’s happy hitting anywhere. He’s just happy. And because he’s happy, clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do. :-)

      • llf0701 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:34 AM

        😃

      • David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        Rendon had a quote in the Washington Post where he said he doesn’t care where he plays on the field, he just wants to hit.

    • Sonny G 10 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:30 AM

      +1

  13. souldrummer - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Mark, thanks for clarifying a challenging problem for me. You are right. First time I’ve logged onto the site to comment all year. Felt this post was worth a thank you. Thank you Medstar Health for funding Mr. Zuckerman. Click.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      Good to see you back, sd!

  14. Les - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    There seems to be little discussion about Werth. His slugging % is way down this year and appears to have become a slap hitter (would be a better lead off hitter than Span). At his age and with his declining production he should be a candidate for time on the bench.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Well, I’ve said several times Werth should sit (or go on the DL) and so has Ghost. Everyone else seems entranced with the idea of having the Opening Day lineup “intact.” I’m not entranced by that at all. I say put in the best lineup that we have TODAY. If Werth is healthy and part of it, fine. But if he’s injured, put him on the DL. If he’s tired, rest him.

      • npb99 - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:22 PM

        I agree, plat the best lineup. Werth has been in a prolonged slump and at the moment MCClouth is better.

  15. sjm308 - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    Dog gone it Mark!
    You made it look all too easy.
    Thanks for an easy to read, common sense approach to all this.
    I realized my plan had almost no chance of A. being implemented B. actually working
    but it was fun to put it out there.

    I am excited to watch the team we thought we would see most of the year perform, not just tonight but for several weeks to see if things go the way we hoped. I still hope MW gives Desmond/Werth/Zimm and LaRoche more than an occasional day off. I really think those days off will pay dividends later in the season.

    Others have written it but I want to emphasize again that we will have players headed to the DL, slump, catch fire, surprise us and disappoint. Some on here will jump off cliffs, others will stay grounded and most of us will just enjoy what is a terrific sport and a long season.

    Go Nats!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      +1

  16. Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    Great analysis, well presented – thanks, Mark!

  17. philipd763 - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:43 AM

    Espi’s pathetic bat will rule the day.

    • adcwonk - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      brilliant analysis

      thanks

  18. micksback1 - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    2 things jump out at me, one, the schedule from now until the break should favor the nats significantly now that all the pieces are back. Nats should win each series.
    two, Mark’s analysis is good, but the only reason Zim is going to play 3rd is due to ALR’s all star hitting. Remember, the long term goal is Rendon at 3rd and Zim at 1st. I think it is a huge mistake to mess with the defensive chemistry of the infield, but MW is paid to determine that. It would kill 2 birds with one stone if Zim could play left filed and that way, Span, Werth, Bryce and McClouth could all be fresh and less injury prone. Again, if Espi continues to suck at the plate, then Frandsen would be a good fit in the infield and a better bat.

    other than that, with all the pieces back”everything, everything, everything going be all right this morning, oh yeah”

    • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:26 AM

      Actually, the main reason Zim is going back to third is because of Espi’s hitting, or lack thereof.

  19. thelatencn - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    Here’s the batting order MW fielded the last time he had all these players on the active roster:

    1. Span -cf
    2. Zimmerman – 3b
    3. Werth – rf
    4. Ramos – c
    5. Harper – lf
    6. Desmond – ss
    7. LaRoche – 1b
    8 Rendon – 2b

    In the 7th, Espinosa pinch-hit and stayed in the game at 2b. Rendon moved to 3b. Zimmerman sat.

    I wonder how close to that today’s lineup will be.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      Well, if we are going to play lineup games, this is what I think MW will do.

      1. Span
      2. Rendon
      3. Zim
      4 ALR
      5. Werth
      6. Ramos
      7 Harper
      8. Desi
      9. Pitcher

      I’m putting Harper in the seven spot only because he’s just coming back and it’s a lefty pitcher. I’m torn on 5-6. Werth is slumping, so I dropped him but it could go either way. You notice I didn’t say where all these guys are playing, but I expect, according to Mark’s post, that Zim will play 3B for the Rox series at least. If it were me, I would do this, at least for one or two of the Rox games.

      1. Span (CF)
      2. Rendon (3B)
      3. Zim (LF)
      4. ALR (1B)
      5. Ramos (C)
      6. Harper (RF)
      7. Desi (SS)
      8. Espinosa (2B)
      9. Pitcher

      • chaz11963 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        You know, that’s a very good point about optimal lineup against today’s lefty pitcher should really have Danny at 2B given his RH batting numbers. Same in reverse for Span though. Even though Werth is slumping, he’s much better against lefties than Span. I think the best offense move tonight would be Harper in CF and Werth in RF. I really don’t think MW will that innovative on the first night with all the regular starters back though.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        Just to make sure we are all clear, Span actually has a slightly better OPS versus LHP than against RHP. Last year’s wide platoon splits for Span was the only season of his career that he really had a significant platoon split. Generally his vs. L/R splits are almost identical, and often (as with so far this year) he actually hits LHP slightly better.

        So it is true that Werth hits LHP better than Span – but only because Werth does have some platoon split. Werth will start tonight, or whenever Harper is activated (to celebrate the band getting back together :-), but Span may well get starts against LHP.

    • chaz11963 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      I think he will likely continue with ALR batting clean-up. Zim’s slumping, Werth is also slumping in June and has lost power but is still a smart hitter and sees a lot of pitches, Ramos is heating up, Desi has pop but is striking out this year more than ever, Rendon is solid and reliable but shows his inexperience at times, Harper looks good form rehab but is still unknown… I’m thinking more like this:

      Span- cf
      Rendon- 2B
      Werth- rf
      LaRoche- 3B
      Ramos- c
      Zim- 3B
      Harper- lf
      Desi- ss

      Regardless, this has a lot of potential to be a great lineup.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:10 AM

        I wanna see LaRoche and Zimm BOTH playing third base. Maybe that will help.

      • chaz11963 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:12 AM

        HAHAHA…. good one NL

      • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:42 AM

        Or maybe Espi at SS, Frandsen at 2B, and Desi/Zim at 3B. Zim can toss the ball to Desi for a relay throw like he’s been doing the last several weeks.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:54 AM

        When Zim was having his arm problems in the spring, I did suggest that. On the plays where Zim has to go back and would normally throw overhand to first, just throw to second like a doubleplay. You would still get all but the fastest runners at first base. On the plays where he comes in and scoops the ball and throws sidearm, just keep doing that.

        It’s “outside the box,” but if Zim still has the range and “feel” for third base, and all he’s missing is the overhand throw, then ADAPT.

      • snerdblurter - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:41 AM

        Does anyone else remember the last time Zimm batted lower than 5th? I sure can’t.

  20. natsjackinfl - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    Nowhere on the schedule does it explain how any team will be playing when a particular match up occurs.

    Just ask the Tigers how their match up with Houston worked out this weekend.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      100% true. We should have swept Milwaukee with Stras pitching the finale, and taken 3 of 4 (at least) from the Cubbies.

      The best you can do in looking forward is to see where the teams stand in terms of their record, injuries, pitchers they are starting, travel, etc. From that point of view, the schedule is favorable. After that, you play the games.

  21. Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    One of Mr. Zuckerman’s best columns, in my opinion. Well written and on the mark. His last sentence may be debatable by some, but until further notice it is what it is.This old, grumpy curmudgeon is looking forward to the 2nd half of the season along with all of the drama that will come with it.

    GYFNG!!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      +1

  22. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    Mark, good article and stating what you think the Nats should do.

    We all have opinions and what has now changed is Ryan is batting almost as poorly as Danny. Span has stepped up in offense and defense to a level I haven’t seen in a while.

    I wondering if there is an option G because options A to F aren’t perfect either.

    Span stepped up and showed he should be playing every day.

    Werth, Desi, Espi, and RZim are all slumping and maybe rest is the answer and that can now be easily accommodated.

    MW has 10 able players for 8 spots when you pencil in McLouth also. I guess this should be a good problem to have.

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      Ghost. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Zim go through one of these spells and it won’t be the last. Espinosa, on the other hand is a complete waste from the left side of the plate.

      I expect Zim to get back to himself at the plate in a couple of games or so but Espinosa at this point is nothing more than a late inning defensive replacement.

      The guys that really need to figure things out are Desmond and Werth.

      • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        Well put NJ. Ghost, I know you don’t like being wrong but it happens to the best of us. On June 11, when you confidently predicted that Span would be benched, he was hitting .278/.318/.402. He’s now at .268/.313/.392. He hasn’t stepped it up, in fact, he’s been kind of slumping — .221/.280/.338 in those 16 games. As far as stepping it up defensively, you can’t be serious.

        I’m not worried about Zim at the plate. He’ll come around. Always does. I’m a bit worried about Werth, but he helps us win in many ways. Mainly, I’m worried about Zim’s arm, and hoping for the best. But not having Danny the K in the lineup is worth the risk.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:42 AM

        Werth is in a slump. players go through them. I think that Werth will snap out of it. Watching Desi’s complete and utter worse than ever lack of plate discipline is pretty scary right now.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:33 AM

      Span is MOTIVATED. He wants that Gold Glove, and he loves being the leadoff hitter. I wouldn’t sit Span at all, unless you are just giving him a break as in the 2nd game of the doubleheader on Saturday.

      As I’ve said above, I would give Danny a chance against the lefties. Put him in a position to succeed, hitting from the right side. Maybe not all three games, but if you only put him in as a pinch-hitter/late inning replacement he may never get another hit in his lifetime. He’s rested (he sat out the double-header except for a couple of late innings).

      Bear in mind rain is predicted all week,–that could mess with the schedule. You could have extra innings. Also going to be plenty HOT and HUMID. What I’m hoping for is max creativity by Matty and buy-in from the players. Leave the egos at the gate.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        I agree about Denard Span, NL. and I also think that Matt Williams really appreciates Span’s overall game. Span is the centerfielder for the year.

        In my opinion, Danny should be sent back down to Harrisburg, or Syracuse, and try a month, [or more], of batting from the right side exclusively. If he can’t meet that challenge, then throw in the towel.Or trade him for whatever and watch him go somewhere else, and hopefully for him, set the world on fire.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      Option G is the blockbuster trade nobody sees coming. Not entirely outside of Rizzo’s bag of tricks, as we’ve seen.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:36 AM

        Exactly. Not out of the realm of possibilities that Rizzo makes a trade.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        Just to toss a cat among the pigeons:
        Multi-player deal with San Diego, featuring Strasburg, Everth Cabrera, and pieces going both ways.

      • water47 - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        You have span (on a down year), Espy (proven non-hitter), RD (he name always comes up) and a bunch of Minor leaguers. Maybe Desi (Struggling and no replacement)? Werth (Full No-trade) Zim (10-5 No trade)

        What move can you make? Move all of those and then Harper to CF & Zim to LF? Who plays 2nd? What are you getting back

        SP – Plus Plus (will Price really make us that much better and a what cost?)
        RP – Plus Plus
        C – Jonathan Lucroy is just not available.
        1B – You have LaRoche knocking the ball all over the place.
        2B – Sure Utley or Cano would be nice but for many reasons they do not make sense long term
        SS – Desi has done it before but he is struggling
        3B – isn’t this position already too full?
        OF – Really, we have 3 spots for 4 starters and a few decent backups.

        Maybe a Scutrao-type trade that re-energizes the team would work but Harper is coming back and that might do it.

        Now an aggressive long term deal might be interesting. Ship out a pitcher and hitters for a superstud.

        OR we could just see who we are getting from Billy and west coast Nats.

    • 6ID20 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      Zim is a streaky hitter. Always has been. And when he turns from bad to white hot, he turns on a dime. Sometimes it has been cortisone-aided, but usually it hasn’t. It will happen again. Resting Zim now when he’s already had 6 weeks of rest this season makes absolutely no sense.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Interesting you mention the cortisone aided. Ray Knight had something to day about that early in the season. We don’t generally know what happens behind closed doors.

        RZim needs a dayoff just like everyone else on this team.

  23. Doc - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    Some of the current log jam has been created by long-term contracts, i.e., JDub and RZim.

    Got some talent coming up, too, e.g. Taylor, Souza, Walters, Goodwin, Skole, etc.

    Beware of the Phillies’ Syndrome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:39 AM

      Doc, it wouldn’t surprise me should Werth have to go on the DL at any time, that Souza gets the call up and gets inserted into the lineup right away.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:41 AM

        Yes. I think Werth has been hanging by a thread waiting for Harper to get back. It’s a nice fantasy to see the Opening Day lineup in place again, but not for long…

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:44 AM

        I agree Werth on the DL and Souza called up, but why would he start? Put Harper in RF.

      • stoatva - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:44 AM

        This.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      I think that’s wise, and also why I’m leary of signing yet another long-term contract for Ian, even though I love the fella, and he’s a great captain for the team. I doubt JZimm will sign in any case, he is going to make a FORTUNE on the free agent market, and maybe go home to Milwaukee. You aren’t going to sign Stras, either. He isn’t happy here, he apparently doesn’t like McCatty, etc. You might have a chance to sign Bryce if you offer him ten years and the moon. I wouldn’t mind an extension for Rendon AT ALL.

      This is a discussion for a later time. I don’t see Rizzo doing mid-season deals, but with Rizzo, you never know.

      • Doc - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:49 AM

        Didn’t know about Cat and Stras on the outs, NL.

        Got some more stuff on that?

      • thelatencn - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:51 AM

        Agree JZimm unlikely to sign here long term. But I also doubt the Brewers can afford him. I say he becomes the key to the Cubs future rotation.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:59 AM

        I’m referring to what Stras said about fast balls being the “plan” and he didn’t like the plan. That was in his start against Atlanta. Maybe that was aimed at the catcher (Lobaton for that game), maybe it was aimed at the statheads, who knows. But McCatty is in charge of the pitchers, so I’m thinking it was aimed at him.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:10 AM

        Good point on the Cubs. They may keep Samardijza, I heard it was only may 10% that they would trade him, they would prefer to sign him longterm, but he wants a Homer Bailey-type deal.

        Hard to say what the Brewers can afford. Need to keep them out of the World Series first. ;)

    • npb99 - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:13 PM

      I keep saying this but draw no reactions. Nats already have two aging/injured players at above-market long-term contracts. Rizzo has to be concerned. Sign Desi to a similar deal and we could be an old and creaky team (other than Rendon and Harper) before you know it.

  24. llf0701 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I assume the decision will be made based on what’s best for the team (and fans!) and not one made out of emotion or some kind of loyalty.

  25. Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Mark hit the nail on the head as usual. Some of us have been arguing for this result, less eloquently of course, for the last month. A good roundup of the arguments took place in this post on June 11:

    http://natsinsider.com/2014/06/11/nationals-stock-watch-firing-on-all-cylinders/

    The key point Mark makes is this:

    “Espinosa may be brilliant in the field, but he simply isn’t productive enough at the plate to merit a spot in the everyday lineup. Nor is there any reason to believe he will become productive enough…. He has been given every opportunity to prove he can do better, and he has not shown he can do it.”

    At a certain point, you have to admit that “If he can just hit .240 and not strike out as much,” is a pipedream.

    Today, MW will fill out his first lineup card since April 25 with Harper in the lineup, so we’ll finally have the answer to the question what will MW do. And a new debate can finally dominate this board.

    As for the lineup, Rendon has shown he should not move down in order. And Span, for better or for worse is MW’s leadoff hitter. Werth likes hitting third and I doubt MW will change that right away. So that leaves us with:

    Span
    Rendon
    Werth
    ALR
    Zim
    Harper
    Ramos
    Desi

    Personally, I’d prefer the following until Werth and Zim get out of their funks. I also think that MW should show confidence in and respect to Harper by putting him in the middle of the order.

    Span
    Rendon
    Harper
    ALR
    Ramos
    Zim
    Werth
    Desi

    I also remember well that Desi did not thrive at all batting 8th. He doesn’t have the discipline to lay off the junk that the No.8 hitter gets thrown. Ramos, on the other hand, does just fine there, and doesn’t seem to be offended by hitting there as I’m sure Werth and Zim would be.

    Is it really possible that Harper has only 1 HR all year. He’s got some catching up to do. Let it start tonight!

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:47 AM

      You make a good point about Desi in the 8-spot but until he gets out of his funk I don’t see him higher in the lineup. Desi has been laying off the first pitch recently, which I expect he’s been told to do, but I’m not sure it’s actually helping. Harper will be in the middle of the order very soon, we all hope!

      • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:24 AM

        Yeah, I agree that MW really can’t justify batting Desi higher than 8th in this lineup. Ramos hasn’t been tearing the cover off the ball recently though, so he sure shouldn’t be batting cleanup. Maybe he’ll volunteer. Desi’s career slashline batting 8th is .245/.305/.349/.654, worse than any other spot in the order where he’s played more than 12 games. He’s done best batting 5th — .286/.327/.484 . Don’t think he’s see that spot in this lineup for a very long time.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:05 AM

        Beware drawing very strong conclusions from weak evidence.

        Desi has less than 250 PA at #8, most of them in 2010, when his #s in that spot were pretty much consistent with his overall season #s.

  26. scnatsfan - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    The unfortunate thing is Espi pinch hit in both games of the Cubs doubleheader… and struck out both times. As a pinch hitter I fear he will be horribe – except for the occasional blast – at moving runners over.

    • chaz11963 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      If I would have to check to be sure, but I think he was batting from the left side both times. He’s actually pretty good from the right side of the plate.

      • scnatsfan - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:09 AM

        And you wonder if he was sent to the minors and told to bat just right handed what his career might be like.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:15 AM

        Yes, he was. Faced Villanueva in one game and Rondon in the other.

        That’s my issue with using him as a pinch hitter late in games–he’ll come up against (mostly) righty relievers and often with men on base. Not the best situation for him, when his fallback for getting on base is a bunt single.

  27. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    I think Mark and others are ignoring/glossing over a few issues that threaten any consistent day-to-day lineup. First is that Zimmerman isn’t hitting. If he continues to not hit, at any position, the rationale for putting him in the lineup on a daily basis evaporates. History suggests this won’t continue forever but if it did continue through July while his play at 3B compromised the overall defense I think the defense comes first. Second, Desmond isn’t hitting either. While he may be OK in the field, he’s not at last year’s level and his rally-killing 1.2 Ks per game aren’t helping anybody. What happens if he threatens the Mendoza line? Espinosa’s bat isn’t the answer but Desmond needs some time off. There’s also the pitching — notwithstanding the starting pitchers’ collective ERA, they are NOT dominating — and Ray Knight’s apologies are getting really annoying. (Thank Providence for the bullpen.) Only Zimmermann and Fister can truly be described as consistent. When Fister and Zimmermann were rolling and Strasburg enjoyed a momentary uptick I proclaimed the Nats would not endure another four-game losing streak — and then they promptly lost five and then four. The only thing keeping the Nats in some games has been the defense, and to survive the occasional (recurrent) hitting droughts maintaining good team defense (e.g., w/ Span in CF — he saved at least three outs in the 1st game of the DH) must be the first consideration.

    • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      Boy you’re really looking for the dark clouds today, on a day when Bryce Harper is coming back. I feel for you man.

      Sure, if Zim continues to slump and if Desi hits the Mendoza line, we’ve got a problem. Likewise if ALR gets cold, Ramos fails to improve, and Werth keeps up his chilly June. Oh, and what if Rendon tires and starts stinking up the joint? And if it turns out Harper can’t hit major league pitching any more? Then we’re really in trouble.

      The one thing that is sure is that adjustments will have to be made along the way. Because of injuries, slumps, or streaks. That’s baseball.

      By the way, Gio has been good since he got back. Two quality starts, and 2.00 ERA in 18 innings. No runs in his last two starts.

      I do agree that Ray Knight’s excuses are annoying. There’s a guy who can’t see a black cloud when it’s raining all over him — except if it has to do with Rafael Soriano.

    • scnatsfan - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      Zim and Desmond have a history of hitting. Espi has a history of futulity at the plate save a 6 month stretch.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      The Nats have not had a five-game losing streak this year. They have lost four in a row twice (May 21-24 and June 12-15).

      While I agree that twisting like a pretzel to keep a .190 hitter in the starting lineup (.190/.268/.300 in 26 games) may seem foolish, the Nats–as a team–have gone 16-10. (Just re-checked my figures). It might have something to do with the player who IS at third base.

      In the most recent 30 games where he’s played third base and only third base, May 24-June 28, Rendon has slashed .322 /.390/.570 with seven homers and 21 RBI (team has gone 17-13).

      This is what Rendon hits when he plays second base (note: only 48 PAs): .262/.340/.429.

      So, what I feel is that you have a third baseman who is thriving. Keep him there. Period.

      You have two outfielders who are not hitting (Werth and Zim) and one who is only OK offensively but outstanding on defense (Span). Let Harper sub in for the guys who aren’t hitting.

      As for Danny, play him against LHPs. Let’s see how Desi does after the off-day, if the rest has helped.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        P.S., it would be FOOLISH to play this outfield RZ-Harper-Werth. Harper is energetic but not experienced in center, you have Zim, also inexperienced, and Werth (experienced, but losing steps). You are asking for trouble, you are asking for Harper to run around and get injured chasing balls that “belong” to the left- or right-fielder, plus his arm is wasted in CF.

      • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        What position Rendon plays has zero to do with how well he hits. As you say, small sample size. He did fine for long stretches last year when he was playing 2B. He’s happy playing baseball.

        The pretzel you are twisting is just not that tasty. Now healthy, Harper should play every day. So should Span. So should ALR. Espi is not that much better against lefties than they are. Occasional rest for all of them, and for Werth. But putting Espi in the lineup every day, instead of Zim or Werth. No way.

      • David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:10 AM

        His arm isn’t wasted in center, he was very good in center in 2012 and showed off the arm quite a bit. He also managed to play between Morse and Werth in 2012. Zim is better than Morse out there.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        I still like Rendon at 3B. He may be “happy” anywhere, but I think he is “better” at 3B, where he can be stable. Yes, the pretzel is not that tasty right now. All I can say is what I said before, RZ has a track record. It may be taking him a while because he was out a spell and maybe his thumb is not fully healed (as evidenced by the Zimmermitten, which was in play a couple of times on the road trip). He’s not old enough to project an age-decline, so I project he’ll hit up to his usual standard–eventually.

      • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:31 AM

        Some might say a good arm is wasted in LF more than CF. That’s one of the reasons you see weak armed outfielders like Juan Pierre and Ryan Zimmerman out there. Harper impressed with his arm in CF. I seem to recall you calling him mini-Ankiel. (Ankiel played CF too, by the way.)

  28. natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Few statistical tid-bits as I’m bored here at work:

    Nats monthly slash line going into the last day of June:

    March/April: .258/.327/.414
    May : .242/.307/.364
    June : .229/.300/.350

    Denard Span’s June: .267/.310/.429 13 doubles, 2 triples, 6 stolen bases

    Anthony Rendon’s June: .313/.374/.573 6 home runs, 19 RBI’s…great month after .212/.292/.323 May

    Jayson Werth’s June: .219/.299/.302 with just 1 home run. He did have an errorless month in the field after having 3 errors in May

    Adam Laroche’s June: .289/.421/.467 4 HR’s, 16 RBI’s, 22 BB’s Laroche continues to show patience/consistency at the plate

    Ryan Zimmerman’s June: .190/.268/.300 ..looked like he came off the DL hot for a few games but really slowed down

    Wilson Ramos’s June: .324/.390/.514 in just 10 games…needs to stay healthy!

    Ian Desmond’s June: .233/.262/.408 4 HR’s 14 RBI’s 39 SO’s…..
    Kind of random but according to Baseball Reference, in the 11 games he has batted 7th this year his slash line is .310/.356/.690 with 4 HR’s, 2 Doubles, 1 Triple

    Danny Espinosa’s June: .238/.312/.298 36 SO’s
    This is actually a good improvement from his very forgetful May .125/.195/.263 37 SO’s. His March/April seems very distant at this point: .288/.341/.488

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      Probably worth looking at the last 10 games also. In your illustration it doesn’t paint RZim well as he’s the worst of the bunch. Espi has been bolstered by his RH hitting and some bunt hits for the month of June.

      LaRoche is en fuego the last 10 days with Ramos and Rendon and Span not far behind. They have been carrying this offense.

    • dgourds - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      Thanks natsbro. Useful. So using recent slash lines by moving Zim to 3rd and benching Espinosa we are vastly worsening our defense and our offense doesn’t change much. I don’t think Zim will stay in this slump, but I didn’t think Desi would have the year he’s having. (Yes I know he’s hit a bunch of hr’s). And, I understand the rationale to give Zim a chance at 3rd, but who really thinks he will succeed there? Even he has said he’s a step down from Rendon. My feeling is that infield defense is paramount for our sinkerballers. Play Espinosa at 2nd when Fister and Roark pitch. Also play him when we face a lefty and play Zim at first those days. I appreciate everyone’s optimism with Zim at 3rd. I hope you’re right.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:20 AM

        I’m with you, dgourds. Minority rules!

      • therealjohnc - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        To “succeed” at 3b Zim doesn’t need to be as good as Rendon. He needs to be minimally competent (i.e., not a dumpster fire disaster). After he switched to the sidearm throws in April before he got hurt, he seemed to be above that milestone. At the plate Espi is already a dumpster fire disaster, particularly from the left side. Mark didn’t note this, but a fair percentage of Espi’s hits from the left side are actually bunt hits – so his stats when he actually swings the bat are even worse.

        And as I’ve pointed out in a couple of other threads, panicking about Zim’s offense is more or less an annual ritual; we went through it last year after April and in 2012 when he was pretty terrible the first half of the season. And yet when all is said and done Zim’s numbers are … very Zim like (120 career OPS+; 121 OPS+ in 2012, 122 OPS+ in 2013). Could he have a career worst year? Sure, it’s possible. But generally speaking the best bet is to go with the players being their track record, particularly when they have been in the league as long as Zim (10 years) but are still at an age where decline is not really in play (Zim is 29).

  29. natsjackinfl - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Natslady. You asked why Souza would be inserted into the lineup should Werth have to go on the DL for any time.

    How about a 25 yo who plays an athletic right field, strong arm, bats right and throws right, has 15 stolen bases, hitting .358 with 11 home runs, with a .444 OBP and a 1.021 OPS.

    If I’m missing Werth for 15 days, that’s the guy I want in right field.

    • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      I would too, if those were MLB numbers.

      If Werth is out, I’m afraid Ryan will go back to LF and Harper will play RF. Do you really think MW is prepared to put Souza in the lineup and leave Espi on the bench? He could have done that for the last month if he wanted to.

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:51 AM

        In a word, yes. When Bryce went down Zim was out, too. This was in late April.

        Now it’s time to see what the developmental process is able to produce and Souza is the guy. He’s been raking just like Polanco was at AAA for the Pirates.

        And this is only should something happen to Werth, or maybe even Span.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:55 AM

        222, exactly. MW, like everyone else, has been waiting for Harper to return to make adjustments. Souza was up previously and didn’t do much, 1 hit, 1 walk in 9 PAs (granted, he was a sub, not a starter).

      • therealjohnc - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        If Werth goes out for a DL stint, and Ryan can play a minimally competent 3b, then Souza would likely get a shot at RF. If Zim has trouble reaching “minimally competent” at 3b then he would swing back to the OF if something were to happen to Werth, Span or Harper.

  30. langleyclub - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    The speculation is that Williams is going to juggle the line-up to keep everyone fresh, but the fact is that Ryan Zimmerman is a below average 3B and, at best, an average LF that teams take the extra base on due to his rag arm. Until he gets hot offensively, Ryan Zimmerman has to be #2 (behind Espinosa) in the most days off as the line-up rotates. Makes no sense to bench Span, ALR or Werth more than Ryan Zimmerman right now.

    If RZ can’t play 3rd, RZ is not a good enough offensive player to justify sitting Span just to keep RZ in the line-up.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      They don’t like the word “benching” or riding the pine, the code word is “resting”.

      I expect RZim written in at 3rd base on tonight’s lineup, and go from there. Many people glossing over Ryan’s offense since his return from the DL at under Mendoza. Span has stepped up, Espinosa has regressed as a lefty, Werth and Desi are scuffling. I hope this team gets back to 4.7 runs per game as they will be back to 2012 form with this pitching staff.

      Everyone got the day off yesterday. No excuses, play ball.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:27 AM

        I also expect Zim to play 3B as in Mark’s post.

        I don’t think it’s the best idea, but we are playing a team in a slump, they don’t have their best hitters available (other than Tulo), nor are we facing good pitchers (and they are all lefties). If there is any time to try Zim back at 3B and see if he can get past his slump, these three games are probably it. Same for Desi and Werth. We should eat these pitchers ALIVE and if Zim makes a couple of errors, we’ll hopefully overcome it and go from there. By the time of the O’s series we should know the story.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:07 PM

        “and if Zim makes a couple of errors, we’ll hopefully overcome”

        NatsLady, it’s not just the errors. It’s the errors plus the balls that Ryan’s range won’t allow him to get to. It’s those balls that Rendon was scooping up down the line that Ryan wasn’t getting to before as he won’t play close to the line and deep. Those are the doubles that really cost your pitchers. It’s also the 5-4-3 doubleplays that won’t get turned.

        The top sabremetric 3rd baseman field anywhere from 2 to 3 groundballs per game.

        Ryan has a better chance of the ball being fielded by the 1st baseman if he short-hops it rather than those overthrows.

        I will hold my breath on those 2 to 3 throws per game but also expect RZim will be lifted late in games for defense which could minimize some of the impact.

  31. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    From WaPo. Werth always good for some some quotes.

    “Doesn’t really matter if I am or I am not” open to rest after that, Werth said. “This is a team. You can go in and politic for yourself, but at the end of the day it’s, you know, ‘He who holds the ball controls the game’ but more like ‘He who holds the pen controls the lineup.’ ”

  32. Eugene in Oregon - Jun 30, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    To underscore what a few folks have already said, I think this is one of the better, more direct and prescriptive posts Mark Zuckerman has written. It steps away from being a beat reporter and moves more into the realm of being a columnist. His analysis of why the Nats need to play Ryan Zimmerman at 3B is spot on. But I would also highlight these sentences from his piece:

    “What if Zimmerman can’t play third base, you ask? Well, how will the Nationals ever know for sure unless they try? Look, it may prove to be untenable. Zimmerman may launch throws into the grandstand and dugout, and he may cost his team some runs, perhaps even a game or two. And if that happens, then the Nationals need to adjust.”

    With an emphasis on ‘need to adjust’. Baseball is not a static game. Managers and GMs are constantly making adjustments. Whether because of injuries, trades, slumps, platoon match-up, statistics, or just plain ole hunches. I look forward to seeing how the Nats do with Ryan Zimmerman at 3B and Bryce Harper back in LF, particularly given the schedule leading up to the All-Star Break. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But isn’t that why they play the games?

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      +1.

      As to Mark’s pt about Zim’s defense at 3B: I think the question is, how bad is too bad?

      Some folks I think are still measuring Zim by the standard of the elite defensive 3B he once was. Well, he’s not that player any more, and never will be again.

      Given his time away from 3B, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a little rust in his first chances over there. And even after a chance to reacclimate, he’s going to sail some throws and cost the Nats some runs–that’s pretty much a given.

      But how many is too many? Does he have to get back to where he was at the end of 2013? Somewhere between the end of last season and the beginning?

      I don’t have the answers, except to say that it’s going to take patience to figure it out, and some adjusting of expectations. GG defense is not the standard.

  33. David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:07 AM

    Nobody is ignoring Ryan’s poor offense so far, but you’re not going to sit him. You don’t get out of slumps by sitting, you get out slumps by hitting. Ryan missed 2 months on the DL, it was going to take a while. It’s been almost a month now, so he should start coming around soon. Same thing for Harper. He tore up his rehab, but we need to be patient. It’s not easy to come back and play at a high level right away.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      But isn’t that what the discussion has been, for all intents and purposes? What to do if Zim can’t play third? Some of us already are convinced, and have skipped right to the What If portion of the script; others are still waiting to see.

      Me, I think we already know the answer to this: He can play third. And Toonces the Cat can drive a car! He’s just not very good at it.

      Given this roster, they don’t have a lot of options. Either they muddle through with what they have, or they move somebody.

  34. natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Denard Span:

    BB%: K% Doubles Triples SB
    Twins 2008: 12.2 14.6 16 7 18
    Twins 2009: 10.4 13.2 16 10 23
    Twins 2010: 8.5 10.5 24 10 26
    Twins 2011: 8.7 11.6 11 5 6
    Twins 2012: 8.3 10.9 38 4 17
    Nats 2013: 6.3 11.6 28 11 20
    Nats 2014 (so far) : 6.3 9.4 25 5 13

    Just a random note, I’m shocked his ultimate zone rating (UZR) is -2.9 thus far this year.

    Interesting to observe how Denard has changed as a hitter, especially this season. He is certainly not taking walks like he did early in his career, he is also striking out less too. His slugging stands at .392, ISO (SLG minus AVG..basically a measure of pure power of a hitter) is at .124 this season..highest it’s been in the majors so far. In fact he’s 4th on the team in slugging if you’re counting position players who have played at least 60 games. He’s having a nice year hitting for extra base hits..he has 25 doubles already halfway through this season after having 28 all of last season and is on pace for a career high. IMO, despite the lower than desired batting average/OBP Denard Span is certainly a big piece of this offense (and I don’t even need to speak for his defense). I’m interested to see if they move him back in the lineup or he continues to stay leading off despite the low OBP for a lead off guy.

    • natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:26 AM

      Damn the formatting went whack on that..hopefully it’s still clear. Basically his walk rate sharply decreases..along with his strikeout rate

      • natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        To make it clear first column is Walk%, second is SO%, Third is Doubles, Fourth is Triples, Last column is stolen bases

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:37 AM

        Use and (without the spaces) for formatting.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:38 AM

        natsbro, try using the pre tag:

        Denard Span:
        
                    BB%:  K%   2b  3b  SB
        Twins 2008: 12.2 14.6  16   7  18
        Twins 2009: 10.4 13.2  16  10  23
        Twins 2010: 8.5  10.5  24  10  26
        Twins 2011: 8.7  11.6  11   5   6
        Twins 2012: 8.3  10.9  38   4  17
         Nats 2013: 6.3  11.6  28  11  20
         2014  YTD: 6.3   9.4  25   5  13
      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        Thanks. To me, another way to look at a lead-off hitter’s impact is runs scored. It’s not perfect (nothing is) because it relies on other players driving him in, etc., but it’s a good-enough proxy for what a lead-off hitter is supposed to be doing. This year, Denard Span already has 47 runs scored in 81 team-games, 72 played-games. He’s on pace for the second-best runs-scored season in his career, after only his career-best-in-almost-everything 2009 season.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        See the NIDO+ How-To at http://prettyfrickenbueno.wordpress.com/how-to/ for which tags work here, and how to use them.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:42 AM

        Bah. Trying again.

         "
          and 

        "

        Or, look it up. There is an HTML command for pre-formatted text that keeps your formatting.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:43 AM

        Span has become difficult to strike out. The Brewers announcers mentioned it. That was why I was surprised he struck out in the Cubs series.

      • natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:45 AM

        Thanks for all the formatting help guys…long time reader..kind of new at posting though (as you can tell haha)

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:57 AM

        and speaking of NIDO+, NatsLady ….

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        Eugene, one other thing regarding Span and runs scored: I’m pretty sure that he has been stranded at 3rd 6 times in the past 2 weeks, including several times when there were less than 2 outs.

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      It’s difficult for me to reconcile the defensive ratings with the eyeball test. Fangraphs sure doesn’t like McCutchen. And they rate Ben Revere above average and I’ve seen him make mistake after mistake, including a misplayed ball yesterday. I’m waiting for the new graphics that are hopefully coming next year.

      NL Center Fielders

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:01 PM

        I’ve said for years that UZR is a crock. There’s more objectivity in ice dance scoring.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:05 PM

        And NL, I agree regarding Revere. They roost his defense on the Philly blogs. As to McCutchen and his Fangraphs ratings? I think it’s held against him for his propensity to play a deep centerfield, thus allowing more singles to fall in.

    • Doc - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      We’ve recently been through Span’s UZR rating; the -2.9 seemed to mysteriously improve from something like -13.9 over 2 days on FanGraphs—after we started laughing at it here on NI!

      I put UZR in the same stats’ category as the one that found that Babe Ruth didn’t like hot dogs and chewing tobacco that much!

      FanGraphs can take their UZR and shove it the same place where the proverbial tootsie roll goes!!!!!!

      • natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:49 AM

        Yeah I mean I’m big on this statistical analysis stuff for the most part, but I must say that this IS a case where these advanced defensive metrics don’t seem to have it right after watching Denard play defense.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:50 AM

        Doc –

        As Mark points out in the article, the folks at FG don’t claim that UZR is good over such small samples. So I think they should wait a little longer before inserting it in uncomfortable places.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        To be fair, it’s not Fangraph’s fault if a stat they say outright isn’t useful on data sets much less than three full seasons.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/library/defense/uzr/

        Since defensive statistics are still relatively new, they should not be taken as 100% dead accurate. Before drawing any conclusions about a player’s defense, look at a full three years of defensive data, drop the decimal points and take an average, and compare UZR scores with other defensive metrics (DRS, TZL, etc.). By taking a broader picture, you will help ensure that you’re not being over-confident or overstating a player’s defensive abilities.

        (emphasis added)

  35. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    Missing a few words: “full seasons gets taken entirely out of context.

  36. Doc - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    If FanGraphs doesn’t think that UZR is a good stat, then they shouldn’t publish it until it is!!

    By publishing it, they get us Span fans all upset—not to mention Span’s agent at contract time!

    Gooooooooooooooooooo Den!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gooooooooooooooooooooooo Nats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HH, I still think that FanGraphs needs to buy a box of Tootsie Rolls for all their UZR statastitons.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:43 PM

      They didn’t say it wasn’t a good stat. They say it is useful for data sets of about three seasons worth.

      A hammer is a good tool, but not if you’re trying to use it to trim your fingernails.

  37. Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    Whatever some flawed stat says, sjm308 and I both reached the same conclusion after a couple of games last year in April: Denard Span is flat out the best centerfielder that this team has had since they came here from Montreal. Nothing has changed my opinion on that. More importantly, I think Rizzo and Williams feel the same way.Would I like to see him raise his OBP and reduce his base running mistakes? Of course, but worts and all, he stays in CF.

    Also, regarding outfielders, Brian Goodwin is approaching “bust” status. Sousa and Taylor are both looking like much more likely September call-ups. Brian isn’t even showing much on the base paths. The only good stat he has this year is his 50 walks giving him a .340 OBP to go with his .215 BA. He also has 94 K’s.

  38. natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    Harper Bobblehead CF
    Rendon 3rd
    Harper LF
    LaRoche 1st
    Harper Bobblehead RF
    Harper Bobblehead C
    Harper Bobblehead SS
    Harper Bobblehead 2nd
    Zimmermann P

    • natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:17 PM

      On second thought only 2 rightys against a lefty..maybe this won’t work after all…

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