A Word (or 300) About Roster Composition

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, April 10, 2009 | , , , , | 2 comments »

Something in Bill Ladson's mailbag struck me the other day. When asked by Don M. (from Canadia!) about the outfield alignment, Bill replies thusly:
I like Dunn, but I want to see Justin Maxwell and Roger Bernadina as the other outfielders. I've often said this: I want to see the Nationals play the kids. Washington manager Manny Acta, acting general manager Mike Rizzo and team president Stan Kasten will disagree with me, but Maxwell and Bernadina are ready. They are better than some of the outfielders they have now.
What Mr. Ladson fails to mention (maybe he doesn't fact check himself) is that Maxwell and Bernadina are BOTH older than Milledge and Dukes (granted Bernie is just days older than Dukes). I guess Ladson figures that the folks that read him don’t pay attention to little things like that.

So when he thinks the Nats should "play the kids", I guess he's speaking metaphorically, referring to the minor leaguers as "kids". So let's take a closer look at the "kids" Ladson thinks should be playing in DC.

Roger Bernadina turns 25 in June. He's a left-handed hitting center fielder. Until last season at Columbus (when his average on balls in play was 75 points higher than previous career highs), he'd never hit above .270. He has no power (season high for doubles is 19 at A+ Potomac in 2006). And while he is fast, is a just ok base stealer (SB/CS by year: 28/11 in 2006, 40/14 in 2007, 26/9 in 2008). His speed allows him to make some spectacular plays in the OF, but overall he's only average defensively.

Justin Maxwell turned 25 in November. He's a right-handed hitting centerfielder. He spent two years with four different teams at single-A and 180 plate appearances at double-A Harrisburg last year, where he went .233/.367/.459. Maxwell has had three seasons ended prematurely by injury. He has a nice combination of power and speed, but so far in his pro career, he's played solely against younger competition.

I'm not sure what Ladson sees in Bernie and Maxwell that justifies his opinion that they should be playing in DC right now.

Bernie looks like a career "tweener", someone that can utilize his speed to earn short stints here and there covering for injury to regular players. Sorta (exactly) like Willie Harris, until Willie learned to hit home runs last year. Maxwell, should he stay healthy and dominate triple-A this season, might get a look later, but the Nats have some real evaluation to do first at the major league level.

It's fairly apparent that Elijah Dukes should be this team’s centerfielder. He’s the most all-around talented player on the team. Despite his horrific start last season and various dings, he OBP'd .386 with 13 home runs and 16 doubles in 334 plate appearances...for the Nats. Not in double-A. Oh, Dukes turns 25 in June.

Which brings us to everyone's favorite target these days, Lastings Milledge. Milledge turned 24 opening day. Had the Mets resisted to bring him up needlessly when he was 21, the Nats never would have gotten him. He'd probably be starting in left field this year for the Mets alongside Carlos Beltran, sliding over to center when Beltran hangs 'em up.

Milledge was on his way to a dominating season at triple-A in 2006 as a 21 YEAR OLD. His .277/.388/.440 slash stats with seven homers and 21 doubles in 367 plate appearances are things scouts and front office execs drool over. He struck out a bunch, but walked almost as much, and while the stolen bases percentage wasn't great (13 SB/10 CS), he was doing this at TRIPLE-A, again, at the age of 21.

Milledge's short suit right now is his defense. Already we've seen him blow plays that others might have made. And maybe he needs to get moved to a corner, but Baseball Prospectus says he has a pretty good shot at turning into a player whose stats can carry that.

Milledge's most favorable comps in BP are: Rondell White, Vernon Wells, Ellis Burks and Andre Dawson. Think that might be reason enough to show some patience with him? Oh, and one of Dukes' most favorable comps: Adam Dunn.

The outfield will work itself out though. This season isn’t about wins, it’s about finding out who can (and will) play. It’s about maximizing assets (I’m looking at you Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson), and it is, unfortunately, about options (sorry Bergy and Mock).

Look, the Nats HAVE TO find out if Kearns has any value. HAVE TO. He's a guy that is a useful major league player when healthy. The only way to do that is to play him early here in the season.

The roster on Labor Day is MUCH more important than the roster on Opening Day, and we have a long way to get there. Try not to let the noise of wins and losses color your opinion of this team and the direction its going. Statistical models suggest this team is capable of winning somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 wins. So they didn't get any of those 75 in the first three games? Big deal.

It's more important to see these guys play, find out who can play, who will play, and how best to maximize the team's assets.

Acting GM Mike Rizzo likes to refer to the collective players as "inventory". We assume he doesn't call them inventory to their faces. But he's right, in that this year is all about maximizing productivity and managing assets.

2 comments

  1. Kenny G // April 10, 2009 at 10:53 AM  

    Great post! I really like this last paragraph about the 75 wins and how they may not come in the opening series. That's what Orioles fans refuse to realize :)

  2. Cheryl Nichols // April 10, 2009 at 10:57 AM  

    Is my optimism rubbing off on you? :) With so many fans overacting to the first series, it is nice to read some "deep thoughts" about the team. Great post Dave.