Sorry, Bryce: Matt Williams is Right

Yesterday, Bryce Harper returned from the disabled list. This is good news for the Nationals, since Bryce Harper is good at baseball. Having more good baseball players is not a bad thing for a team trying to win, so a returning Harper is a net positive for the organization. However, Harper’s return is not entirely without controversy.

As Wendy Thurm noted after her conversation with Ryan Zimmerman a few weeks ago, Zimmerman enjoyed playing the outfield more than he enjoyed playing third base. His shoulder issues, and the mental pressure that came with making the throw across the diamond, were not a factor in the outfield, allowing him to enjoy the game in a way that he wasn’t at third base. However, Harper’s return means that there is not an outfield spot for Zimmerman any longer, and on Monday night, he went back to third base.

Before the game, Bryce Harper publicly disagreed with the decision.

“I think (Zimmerman) should be playing left,” Harper said. “Rendon’s a good third baseman. He should be playing third. We’ve got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa. Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what’s happening.”

Essentially, Harper’s return forced Matt Williams to make a choice between two players: Denard Span and Danny Espinosa. If Span plays, Zimmerman has to play third, pushing Rendon back to second base, which puts Espinosa back on the bench. If Espinosa plays, then Rendon can play third, Harper shifts to center field, and an outfield spot opens up for Zimmerman. While Harper and Zimmerman are the two most notable players in the story, this is really an evaluation of Span and Espinosa.

And when you evaluate those two players, this shouldn’t even be a particularly hard decision. Here is what the pair have done over the past three calendar years.

Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Denard Span 1621 0.272 0.324 0.382 0.312 96 10.0 3.2 22.7 8.1
Danny Espinosa 1421 0.228 0.296 0.367 0.292 81 0.9 -29.5 24.5 4.1

And here is what they have done just this year, for those who still think a half season’s worth of performance should drive roster decisions.

Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Denard Span 335 0.265 0.312 0.388 0.309 95 3.8 2.1 -0.7 1.2
Danny Espinosa 268 0.217 0.284 0.348 0.278 74 0.2 -7.7 2.6 0.3

As plain as it can be: Denard Span is a better player than Danny Espinosa, and it isn’t particularly close. Span has a consistent track record as a roughly league average hitter, and his baserunning value pushes him a little above that mark in total offense; Espinosa isn’t anywhere close to that. Over the course of a full season, the difference in offensive performance between the two is worth about a win and a half.

And defensively, they’re roughly equivalent in the field. Over 5,600 innings in center field, Span’s career UZR/150 is +5. In 3,600 innings at second base, Espinosa’s UZR/150 is +5. Given that Espinosa is 27 and Span is 30, you might give a slight edge to Espinosa’s glove going forward just due to aging curves, but the gap is not going to be particularly large. At most, you might estimate that Espinosa is a few runs better per season than Span is in the outfield.

But, of course, the question isn’t just how well they stack up individually, but rather, how well the team’s entire defense stacks up when one or the other is in the line-up. The argument for Espinosa essentially revolves around Rendon and Zimmerman. If Zimmerman is more comfortable in the outfield than at third base, and third base is Rendon’s natural position, maybe they make up the offensive gap that exists between Span and Espinosa?

We don’t have the tools necessary to make definitive declarations about Zimmerman’s defensive value as a left fielder, but we can make some assumptions based on what we do know about his defense at third base and defense in general. While Zimmerman certainly is no longer the quality defender at third base that he was earlier in his career, there isn’t much in the way of evidence that suggests that he’s going to be a disaster there.

His shoulder problems began back in 2011 and the throwing issues followed soon after, significantly decreasing his defensive value as an infielder, but he’s still played nearly 3,500 innings at third base since the start of 2011 and has been decent enough to avoid disaster status. His UZR/150 over that stretch is -6, while DRS actually has him even closer to league average. He hasn’t been good there, but it’s not like he’s spent several years showing why he needs to be moved off the position immediately.

Last year was his worst year at third base by UZR, and he is getting older, so perhaps you want to be aggressive with the weighting and project him as a -10 third baseman going forward. That’s within the realm of reason, especially given that Zimmerman has a stated preference to not play there going forward. But how much better does we think he’s going to be in the outfield, realistically? He’s not fast and he doesn’t have much experience in the outfield, so while the early returns have him being good enough to play out there, he’s not going to be an above average defensive outfielder.

Speed score isn’t a perfect measure by any stretch of the imagination, but it does a decent job of bucketing players as “fast” or “slow” based on their stolen bases and distribution of extra base hits. A league average speed score is about 4.5; Zimmerman’s career average is 3.6. This year, he’s at 1.2. It’s probably fair to say he’s a below average runner, and only getting slower. For reference, here is the 2011-2014 UZR/150 for left fielders with a speed score below 3.5.


Name Inn Speed UZR/150
Raul Ibanez 2,785 3.5 -15.5
Matt Holliday 4,107 3.1 -3.8
Josh Willingham 2,735 2.5 -10.5
Delmon Young 1,755 1.8 -12.5
Michael Morse 2,092 1.6 -21.2

Yeah. Zimmerman is almost certainly more mobile than Morse, Ibanez, or Young, but being better than the worst defensive players in baseball doesn’t make you good. It would probably be charitable to project Zimmerman as anything close to an average defensive left fielder, given his size and lack of experience, and he might very well be just as poor in left field as he would be at third base. If there is a significant defensive upgrade to be gained, it’s probably no more than five runs over a full season, or a third of the offensive difference between Span and Espinosa.

And it’s very unlikely that Rendon make sup the other two-thirds of that difference by shifting from second base to third base. Since he has fewer than 1,000 inning in his career at both positions, defensive metrics don’t tell us much, but neither UZR nor DRS suggest that Rendon has been significantly better at third base than he has been at second base. Given his depth of experience at third base, it’s probably fair to expect him to be better at that position going forward, but the magnitude of the gap is just not going to be that large.

And we haven’t even touched on Harper himself, who would have to slide over to center field without Span in the lineup. Even if we take very aggressive stances on the defensive value of Zimmerman as an LF and Rendon as a 3B, we’d still have to mitigate those gains by pushing Harper into center field, where he’s likely to be less valuable.

To boil things down, we have a lot of evidence that suggests that there’s a big gap between Span and Espinosa at the plate. We have basically no evidence that suggests that the defensive improvement from putting Rendon back at third base and Zimmerman in the outfield would even cancel out that gap, much less make the Nationals better. To have a strong preference for Espinosa over Span, one would have to think that there could be something like a 25 run difference in defensive value to be gained by having Rendon play third, Zimmerman play left, and Harper play center. There’s just no reason to think that’s true.

And even the intangible argument about Zimmerman’s comfort level lacks much in the way of support. While I think a player’s preference for position should be included in the discussion of where he is going to play, the data does nothing for Zimmerman’s case that he feels less pressure in the outfield and enjoys the game more; he has a .496 wOBA in 40 plate appearances as a third baseman and a .267 wOBA in 108 plate appearances as a left fielder. The samples are tiny and the numbers are basically useless, but the do-it-for-Zimmerman’s-feelings case would be stronger if he weren’t crushing the ball while playing third and hitting like Danny Espinosa while enjoying the game in left field.

Not that his feelings and preferences don’t matter; they do. They just don’t matter enough right now, given the team’s current options for fielding a line-up. The fact that Zimmerman wants to play the outfield should be a goal for the Nationals to get him there at some point, but realistically, it’s going to take a trade or two to make it a good idea for the franchise.

If they could trade Denard Span for a better second baseman than Danny Espinosa, that might not be a terrible solution. But there are a lot of teams that need second baseman, and there aren’t a lot of them available. Getting Zimmerman off of third base after this season is a good idea, but playing Danny Espinosa over Denard Span right now just to placate his preference is not. And Zimmerman, for his part, has been willing to go back to third base to help the team win.

And that’s where Williams put him, because that’s the current alignment that gives the Nationals the best chance to win baseball games in 2014. That will likely change in the future, and the front office can take proactive steps to help Zimmerman get back to the outfield in the future, but as long as the choice is between Denard Span and Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman should play third base.




Print This Post



Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


111 Responses to “Sorry, Bryce: Matt Williams is Right”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Los says:

    Span is better than Espinosa but Bryce harper should be catching. Normally I would say that the risk of injury is too great but Bryce shows a propensity of getting hurt in the outfield (I know the current one was on the basepaths but still).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Matt says:

      I like this idea as well, although it seems like it would be difficult to pull off midseason. Harper hasn’t caught since junior college and would probably need at least a half season in the minors to get his feet wet at the position. Bryce probably has the ego to give catching a try if asked, so I don’t think it would be quite as far fetched as it seems at first glance.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ben says:

        Half a season? Most organizations develop their catchers for at least 4 years in the minors. He’s never played catcher at any level of professional ball, it would be insane to push back his field/plate development 2+ seasons so that he can spend time learning catcher/the pitching staff. Let the man hit

        +27 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • vivalajeter says:

          Ben is right. Los and Matt are wrong. While Harper might be able to hack it as an emergency catcher, there’s no way he can lead a pitching staff on a day-to-day basis without a great deal of development time. If they can have a do-over, it might have made sense to develop him as a catcher from day 1, but that time has come and gone.

          +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Los says:

          It is his natural position. This would not push back his development anywhere close to 2 seasons. Most catchers develop in 4 years in the minors but most catchers are not Bryce fucking Harper. The guy can learn on the fly and have the coaches call the game from the bench.

          -17 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • LHPSU says:

          Catching HS pitchers is totally different from catching Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. While he’s “learning on the fly” he will easily cost his team half a run a game from his unfamiliarity with the position, especially the pitch framing component, unless you’ve been living under a rock.

          It’s the most important defensive position and you want to punt it?

          +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Matt says:

          He was basically at the development arc of a college catcher. Let’s take Posey and Zunino as comps. Posey spent about 160 games in the minors (and was left down longer than necessary due to service time considerations), while Zunino had a little more than 100 games in the minors before his call, and both were above average defensively when they were called up.

          Being that Bryce is a superior athlete to both of them, he could be ready after about a half season in the minors and some offseason work. Also, don’t forget that Posey was a SS through most of college, so it wasn’t even his natural position, as it has been for Harper his entire life before his professional career with the Nats.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • vivalajeter says:

          Matt, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “He was basically at the development arc of a college catcher”, but wasn’t Harper 17 when he was drafted? Most 17 year olds aren’t in college yet. If he was drafted after a few years of college, things might be different, but as it turns out things aren’t different.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • NatsLady says:

          Why? The Nats already have a very good offensive catcher (Ramos) and an adequate backup (Lobaton). Ramos may be injury prone and no great shakes defensively, but same for Harper–injury prone and no great shakes (at least initially) as a catcher. Now–if Harper could just play second base….

          +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Matt says:

          Most 17 year olds haven’t played junior college baseball, which is significantly more advanced than the high school level. While he may not quite be at the level of a 22 year old D1 catcher, it’s not unreasonable to say that his development time would be similar, considering the his aptitude and athletic ability.

          I’m not trying to insinuate that it would be an easy transition, but I do think it would be worth a shot in order to maximize his value (probably not right now since they are in a playoff race and need him in the lineup playing OF). Most scouts liked his natural ability behind the plate when he was drafted, and Klaw is on record of supporting this very idea of transitioning him back to catcher now, so it’s not like it’s some pie in the sky idea.

          That being said, I doubt any team, especially the Nats, are likely to make such a risky decision.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • SabathiaWouldBeGoodAtTheEighthToo says:

          Nothing about Harper suggests the maturity level required to lead the pitching staff and earn their trust.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Matt says:

          Yes, because Aj Pierzynski just exudes maturity . . .

          +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • emdash says:

          Assuming he can effortlessly take over the most difficult defensive position on the field because of his athleticism and hitting ability seems like a very odd leap to me. He has to learn to call games, techniques to avoid injuring his hands on foul-tips, managing the running game – all at the highest level. Getting good at all of that takes time, no matter who you are.

          Half a season is the absolute best case scenario, and even if the Nats were inclined sending him down to learn to play catcher is the last thing they’d do while they’re trying to contend.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • PB4UGO2BED says:

          Bryce Fucking Harper is not Mike Fucking Trout. He’s only Bryce Fucking Harper. Big difference now that we know what type of players they are.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Los says:

          And Mike Trout shouldn’t be catching because he knows how to play the outfield without running into a wall and getting hurt. Seriously there are maybe 10 catchers in the league who call games and don’t rely on the bench for that. We have no idea what type of framer he would be. If he turns into a Doumit move him off the position. If he is just an average framer he will easily be a top 5 player in baseball with top 2 (because everyone is chasing Trout) upside next year. I think Law and some others agree he should move to catcher this year.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Los says:

          And yes I did just appeal to authority.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • munchtime says:

          It probably isn’t the best idea for an organization to take their best player, move him around the diamond for no reason, and then move him back to where he started when he doesn’t immediately become a defensive asset at the position.

          Instead, they should probably let the outfielder stay in the outfield, and find a catcher if they need one.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          To be fair to Harper, we really don’t know what type of player he is yet.

          Remember, he’s still the youngest player in the NL, and the second youngest player in the game (after Odor).

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • james wilson says:

      Harper should catch? Maybe he should manage. And it would be interesting to see how he handles back stabbers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cicero says:

      He was a pretty good HS SS let him try 3B a few times, a lot less demanding than catching

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Garrett's Mom says:

      I think he should be playing SS and also taking over the closer role.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric says:

      Shit, you’re all wrong. Bryce Harper should not be catching and the real solution which this article does not discuss is putting Ryan Zimmerman at first base when Adam LaRoche’s contract is up, which is either this year or next year. Espinosa is great defensively, and sucks offensively. It is time for him to go, but the Nats can absorb his suckiness at the plate for all the range he has in the field and the batting lineup depth they have otherwise. No one else is catching for the Nats but the buffalo, Wilson Ramos.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Johnston says:

      Turn Harper into a catcher? Incredibly bad idea.

      Am I the only guy who remembers Cliff Johnson?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    I’m most shocked that Harper appears not to have received any media training. In my field, the first lesson we learn when dealing with media is, don’t say anything they can turn against you. If they ask a loaded question, duck the question. Politicians are carefully trained to avoid embarrassing themselves, and so are 95% of professional athletes delivering platitudes like “I’ll do whatever helps us win games.”

    You could say that it’s good that Harper is refreshingly candid, and it’s nice to have someone really say what he thinks, but this is only true to the extent that he is not thinking teammate-insulting or plain dumb things.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • KK-Swizzle says:

      Yup! My thoughts on this story in chronological order:

      1. Wow, he’s kind of a punk for openly dissing his manager like that
      2. Wait, he’s only 21 years old. Why didn’t anybody teach him not to say stupid things to the media?
      3. Now that I think about it, Harper’s statements were most likely prefaced with some sort of biased, bull-sh#t question like, “what did you think about the lineup tonight, especially in regard to Zimmerman being ‘forced’ back to third base against his will?”

      Bottom line: He lacks professionalism, but I’m not sure its really his fault

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • TKDC says:

        My thoughts:

        1. Why is he dissing his manager? Yeah, he’s a bit outspoken at times and seems pretty dumb, but still, why?

        2. Oh, he wants to play centerfield and this is a very thinly veiled way of pushing for that without sounding like a whiner. His comments could seem like they are about “the team” if you squint really hard.

        3. Lots of people will mentally bend over backwards to not come to these obvious conclusions.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          There’s also the fact that Matt Williams is a jackass with no idea what he’s doing.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • tz says:

          True.

          Still, having worked for several jackasses with no idea what they’re doing, you just don’t go there. Cannot help you one bit. Even for Bryce Harper.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • bvillebaron says:

        KK:

        Whose fault is it?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      “You could say that it’s good that Harper is refreshingly candid, and it’s nice to have someone really say what he thinks”

      I would say that. Canned, worthless answers? Pass.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Garret says:

        Like you – I agree that it’s nice to know that not everything Harper says has been fed through a PR firm for approval. He provided a very candid opinion. He didn’t dis anybody. Someone asked his opinion and he provided it.

        The kid is cocky and I’m sure says things that he wishes he could take back (just like all of us would if we were miked up 24/7). An article like this is totally fair to evaluate the merits of his comments. I’m just struggling with all of the criticism people are heaping on him for being candid.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mitch Williams says:

      “That’s a clown question Bro”
      That was savvy media handling if I’ve ever seen it.

      +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Aaron (UK) says:

    Broadly agree – however it is worth noting that:

    (a) Danny Espinosa was clearly playing through injury last year, which affects the numbers above; and

    (b) [the switch-hitting] Danny Espinosa has a pretty pronounced platoon split over his career, and may in fact be a superior bat to Denard Span against LHP (career wRC+ of 118, as opposed to 78 against RHP). Span doesn’t have a platoon split.

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JCA says:

      absolutely true. Recognizing handedness splits for a half season are nearly meaningless, Espinosa for his entire career has shown he’s the better hitter vs. LHP than Span. Span’s not bad, but Espinosa has been better. Had Danny Espinosa never batted lefty and had only faced left-handed pitched, Dave probably would be on Matt Williams case for ignoring platooning sub-par bats by handedness to get superior performance.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        That would require Dave to do more than the bare minimum of research before telling us what we should think, though.

        Obviously, that wasn’t an option.

        -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Tom says:

    Shouldn’t we consider that this alignment now gives the Nats a 3B in Zimmerman with a degenerative shoulder condition and a 2B in Rendon with a history of ankle problems? I’m not saying that was part of Harper’s analysis, but it seems like if you’re the Nats making sure you keep those two guys (who are signed to a long term deal and under team control respectively) healthy would be a pretty important part of the equation?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Rendon has a history of freak ankle accidents, not a long-term issue of any significance.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        If he didn’t have bad ankles before those injuries, he does now. He really shouldn’t be playing second base.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JCCfromDC says:

      That (Zimmerman’s and Rendon’s injury histories) is only really important if the Nationals were planning to lock them into 3b and 2b on a long term basis. It’s very unlikely that this alignment continues beyond this season. Both Span in CF and Adam LaRoche at 1b have options that the team can get out of going forward. A likely result is that the team would have Zimmerman go to 1b and Rendon go back to third for 2015 and beyond. The team has a number of OF prospects (Steven Souza, Destin Hood, Michael Taylor, Brian Goodwin) that could replace Span for a lot less money.

      Espinosa remains the primary SS backup and so will likely stay on the team as a utility player for another year or two, until he becomes too expensive through arbitration. That also at least gives the Nats a solid SS glove if Desmond walks after next season. Other second base options are either uncertain (Zach Walters) or not quite ready yet (Tony Renda), so the team may also explore an offseason trade for a solid starting 2b.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom says:

        I realize this isn’t the long term plan, but even in the short term it still seems like “not injuring a franchise building block” should be a part of thought process. Also, using the three year cut off for Span vastly overstates his value over Espinosa. I love Span but the concussions have clearly taken their toll at the plate.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Hell, Zimm’s a better defensive LF than he is a 3B at this point, and Rendon’s a better 3B than he is a 2B.

      This entire article is lazy as shit.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Mike Trout says:

    Bryce, Bryce, Bryce. This is not the way you get back to playing CF.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Pig.Pen says:

    A few assumptions here I would question: With regards to Zimmerman, you project declining defense, but in regards to Span you accept a 3 year average even though statistics and his age would suggest that he’s declining. Why? Also, Danny Espinosa was awful at the plate last year, Span is obviously declining at the plate so comparing 3 years worth of what they’ve done isn’t likely to have good predictive value. You’re also assuming that Harper would be less valuable in CF, why? Granted it’s SSS, but that SSS suggests he could be as good if not better than Span. One thing often overlooked with Span is his below average arm. He’s not as bad as Ben Revere, but it’s not good. Harper has a strong arm that is underutilized in LF. Finally, there’s the injury factor that’s tougher to answer, does playing third base make Zimmerman more likely to wind up on the DL because of a bad shoulder? Does switching outfield positions regularly make Harper more likely to run into another wall?

    Even still, that’s only one of the things Harper said. Another thing he said was that he shouldn’t be hitting 6th and he shouldn’t.

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. McKingford says:

    Leaving aside the Span/Espinosa debate, can we talk about Williams’ horrible lineup construction – which has Bryce Harper 6th?! And Ian Desmond 7th?!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. DD says:

    Having Span come off the bench as a pinch hitting option is also better than pinch hitting Espinosa. Span is a much better contact hitter and more likely to put the ball in play. Small benefit I admit, but real.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. David says:

    Bold, siding with the guy that has given Kevin Frandsen some 50 at bats in the 2 hole.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. walt526 says:

    Mike Trout : Mickey Mantle :: Bryce Harper : JD Drew

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Pig.Pen says:

    Still Bryce is wrong, Nats best lineup is Rendon at 2B, Zimmerman at 3B, Bryce in CF and Steven Souza Jr. playing LF. No reason for an offensively challenged team to keep someone destroying the IL in Syracuse in favor of a glove first CF with declining skills. And since everyone’s so worried about who is and isn’t a team player, how about the guy hitting leadoff who virtually refuses to not leadoff and threw a fit last year when he was removed from the leadoff spot to the detriment of the team and to the absolute befuddlement of anyone that can do basic math.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Zach says:

    You have failed to address lefty/righty splits. Espinosa is a much better hitter against lefties than Denard is. So for the current series facing lefty starters Bryce has a correct evaluation, however against right handed starters Span should be in the lineup. I also don’t get how Matt Williams had Ramos batting 8….you want the slow guy with hammie issues potentially having to run hard if the pitcher has to bunt him over?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Finn the Human says:

    Harper is a moron and needs to learn to shut his mouth and stop trying to run the team. He should also learn how to play a full season of baseball at some point in his career.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. AhoyaCura says:

    Good analysis. Tough to argue with this conclusion. Though I think Nats fans would tell you that Zimmerman’s throws have been degenerating at such an increasing rate that there is a collective holding of breath every time a grounder is hit to him. The throws, often lobs that are wildly off target, have derailed some of our pitchers (namely Strasburg).

    And they’d say that Harper has played best in CF.

    That said, if Williams should play Span can he at least not bat him and his .312 OBP leadoff?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. SabathiaWouldBeGoodAtTheEighthToo says:

    I would like to see Harper’s research notes and statistical evaluations. I think it is important that we understand his process before judging the decision he and the rest of the coaching staff have made. What, what is that? He is an outfielder who hasn’t played a game in three months? Oh, then maybe he should just be quiet and worry about Bryce Harper.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Garret says:

      And last check you haven’t played EVER. Yet, you are somehow more qualified to pass judgment than Harper?

      As other posters have pointed out, Harper actually makes a compelling case considering the splits. There are definitely scenarios where the Nats would maximize their win probability by following what Harper suggested.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. MGL says:

    Very nice analysis and discussion Dave. I particularly liked how you related speed score to outfield defense. I’ve explained many times how much they are correlated. When I do my UZR projections, I use speed score to establish the mean toward which to regress using speed scores. As you showed, for example, a LF’er with a poor speed score is a well below average defender.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Keegs says:

    Pieces about Harper seem to generally bring down the level of discourse among the fangraphs commentariat, but as a Nats diehard, I’ll engage with some thoughts.

    1.) I’m not sure why Espinosa still switch hits. He’s a disaster from the left side, decent from the right. He has an incredible glove and can stick in this league for another decade based on that, his speed, and his ability to run into one. Why not make a career decision that can increase those chances?

    2.) Long-term, I think the best move is actually Werth to first base rather than Zimmerman. Having two players whose gloves are eroding make small moves down the defensive spectrum instead of having one make one large move and leaving the other to wither away makes more sense, right? It feels like Werth gets worse by the month in right, and Zimmerman has adapted to left rather quickly. then your 2015 outfield is Zimm in LF, Span 2015 option or one of the two prospects in CF, Harper in RF. Werth doesn’t seem like the kind of personality to make that move midseason like Zimmerman. But give him a whole offseason, I think that’s the best move.

    3.) Zimmerman’s struggles at third have been overstated because his issue is throwing errors and they look and feel much worse than declining range or instincts. Yes, he’s bad — especially considering what he once was — but it’s not like he’s a little leaguer out there. Half a year of Zim at third until he can go to LF/1B long-term isn’t the end of the world, but the next time he airmails one with two outs to start a rally, it’s going to feel unconscionable.

    4.) The real question facing the franchise — what song do we use to replace “Take On Me?!”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Aaron (UK) says:

      Totally agree on Werth being the better choice for 1B next year and beyond. That or a trade (and isn’t it something that Werth’s much-derided contract might yet have a smidgen of trade value?)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Keegs says:

    One more thing on Harper: I’m really excited to see how hits once he gets old enough to be the same age as his competition. Last weekend at AA rehab was probably the first time in a decade that’s been the case.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Stickyweb says:

      Yeah that’ll be cool when Trout gets to do it too. Of course, it hasn’t really slowed him down too much so far, I guess. The truly great ones play right through that stuff. Harper not so much.

      -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • emdash says:

        Okay. We all agree that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. That’s great! That doesn’t mean Harper is bad – he’s remarkably good for his age, and his age vs. competition affects how he’s projected going forward.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Derek says:

      Harper was the youngest guy on the Nats AA team last weekend…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • bvillebaron says:

        Who cares how old Harper is? He was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread when he came up, regardless of his age. Stop with the excuses already.

        The simple truth is that Trout, who I believe is 1 year older than Harper, may well be the best player in the game whereas Harper has been good, but is not close to living up to his hype.

        I actually heard some “genius” on the MLB radio station earlier this year claim that the reason the players voted Harper the most overrated player in the game is because they were jealous of him because he plays hard all the time. Well Trout plays the game hard all the time too but without the drama associated with Harper. I also think that the players actually voted Harper as the most overrated player because he has yet to hit higher than higher than .274, his highest HR and RBI totals are 22 and 59.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Marc says:

    Haha…. So much unneeded analysis.

    An accurate analysis of past production and future expectation.. beyond reproach.

    —> Harper’s comments are Personal rather than Production. He doesn’t care for Mr Span?

    Totally agenda driven

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pig.Pen says:

      As a Nats fan, if this was the case, I could get behind it. I don’t care much for Mr. Span either. Totally not the case though, mostly just a young kid who answers the questions he’s asked honestly.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Mr baseball says:

    Straw man makes an appearance in a Cameron column…stunning

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Michael McKinnon says:

    Rather odd for a 21-year-old to be openly questioning his manager’s decision.
    But I do note he is ‘siding’ with the team’s veteran.
    Sounds more like Congress than a real healthy clubhouse in D.C.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason says:

      Yep, I see it as Harper siding with the vet. Zimmerman’s been there longer than Williams, and Zimmerman’s saying he helps the team more in LF at this point. Harper appears to see Zim’s point of view. So as always, Harper is damned if you do, by siding with one over the other. Did he tweet his opinion out of the blue, or was he asked a question by a reporter? What rhetoric is written about Harper if he answers ‘no comment’?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Matt Williams has called Harper out publicly over bullshit several times.

      He hasn’t done anything to earn loyalty from the Nats as such, much less earn more loyalty than Zimmerman.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. BMB says:

    Why couldn’t Zimmerman play 2B? Would he be that terrible? It would protect his arm at least a little.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Ctownboy says:

    From 2006 to 2008, the Cincinnati Reds were said to have a bad pitching staff. What most people who didn’t watch the team on a regular basis didn’t understand was how the BAD defense of Adam Dunn in left field and Ken Griffey Jr in center field and then right field affected the pitching staff.

    If you watched the pitchers, they were afraid to pitch at times. They tried to be perfect because they KNEW all it took was one bad pitch and they would be 1) giving up a cheap home run at Great American Small Park 2) having a ball hit in the direction of Dunn or 3) having a ball hit in the direction of Griffey Jr.

    Sometimes it was a combination of those things; a ball hit in the direction of Dunn or Griffey (which they either didn’t field cleanly or didn’t get to at all) and then a cheap home run that followed.

    So, as far as the Nationals go, instead of asking Harper what he thinks the lineup should be or asking Matt Williams what he thinks, I would take a secret poll of the pitching staff and ask THEIR individual opinions. Because no matter how many runs better the offense “might” be with Zimmerman at third base or in left field, what really matters is how the pitching staff feels about things and whether they are scared to throw certain pitches to certain batters because of a fear of the ball being hit to Zimmerman.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • munchtime says:

      If Zimmerman is so inept a baseball player that the entire pitching staff lives in constant fear of allowing a baseball to be hit in his general direction, it probably doesn’t make a difference which spot he is standing at.

      Also, if the pitchers really are afraid of hitters, the Nats would probably be better served by finding pitchers that aren’t intimidated by MLB hitters than by asking them to fill out the lineup card.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ctownboy says:

        Man on third with less than two outs (heck, even with two outs) and YOU don’t think the pitcher is worried about what pitch he wants to throw and what location he wants to throw it in with Zimmerman playing third base??

        You don’t think this is ESPECIALLY true if the Nationals NEED to win a game to get into the play offs or are playing in the post season??

        I thought of a simple solution after my initial post; when the Nationals have a ground ball pitcher on the mound put Zimmerman in left field. Conversely, when they have a fly ball pitcher on the mound, put Zimmerman at third base. This keeps his bat in the line up but (possibly) limits the number of chances he gets on defense.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • munchtime says:

          I don’t think the Nats pitchers are concerned with where Zimmerman is playing, regardless of situation.

          And if Zimmerman is so inept a baseball player that the entire pitching staff lives in fear that a ball will be hit in his general direction, it doesn’t matter where he is standing. He is helping the other team more than his own, and should be benched.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ctownboy says:

        I am not now but back in 2008 I was a Cincinnati Reds fan. Back then, I kept telling people if you want the pitching staff to improve and you want to win more games, you HAVE to get rid of Dunn and Griffey and get better fielders out there.

        Most people screamed and cried, “NO, you CAN’T do that because without those two, where would the offense come from?”.

        Well, in early August of that year, the Reds did just that and look what happened. Without Dunn and Griffey, the Reds had a better winning percentage than they had with them on the team. In 2009, the Reds scored about 70 fewer runs but had a higher winning percentage than they did the year before.

        Why? Better defense in the outfield led to the pitchers not worrying about being perfect with their pitches and nibbling at the edges. With better defenders, the pitchers were more confident in the pitches they were throwing and were more confident in throwing those pitches over the plate. That was because they weren’t as scared of what might happen if the ball were put into play.

        So, again, the simple question I would ask the pitchers to answer anonymously would be this, what eight position players do you think gives this team the best chance to win and where should those guys play?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. TKay says:

    Thanks GOD for this post!

    I’ve been having a long argument with a friend about this exact subject here in DC for the past two weeks. I got Cameron on my side!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. David says:

    “The samples are tiny and the numbers are basically useless, but the do-it-for-Zimmerman’s-feelings case would be stronger if he weren’t crushing the ball while playing third and hitting like Danny Espinosa while enjoying the game in left field.”

    best line of the entire piece

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Am I Nuts? says:

    Maybe he was trying to defend the younger player who is likely to ride the pine in favor of the vet, even before accounting for differences in production, defense, baserunning, etc.

    I mean, even if you want to put Espinosa in there over Span, one of the best second basemen in the league?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. PackBob says:

    Most players learn there are consequences to speaking their mind and the answer to a question that answers nothing is usually the best option. But Harper isn’t most players and consequences are different for him. What I think he will eventually learn is that not only does a manager have to have the players’ backs, but the players need to have the manager’s back. Harper speaking his mind may be refreshing for fans but does little to help the team.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. Spa City says:

    Ever since Adam LaRoche decided to hit like Joey Votto, the Nats defensive plans have been muddled. Normally Zimmerman would be playing 1B and none of this would be a problem. But for the rest of 2014 I assume they will stick with Zimmerman playing terrible defense at3B, Rendon playing poor defense at 2B and Harper playing poor defense in CF… to go along with Jayson Werth playing lousy defense in RF and LaRoche playing lousier defense at 1B.

    I suppose I don’t have any criticism for Ian Desmond’s defense at Short though.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pig.Pen says:

      What the crap do you base any of this on? LaRoche is a plus defender at 1B, Harper is a plus defender with a great arm. Rendon is at least adequate at 2B if not slightly above average. Werth’s defense is declining, but I would hardly describe his defense as lousy, he’s certainly not conjuring up memories of Adam Dunn. Put the bottle down Mr. Boswell and go write the article Mike Rizzo told you to.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. TheLastDon says:

    Bryce should keep his pie hole shut and not question his manager in public. Matt Williams played this game a long time and is more accomplished than Harper. When you do something, Bryce, you can speak up. For now, keep your cake hole shut!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      It’s too bad Williams is such a shitty manager then, huh?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dan says:

      Yes, TheLastDon, baseball is a lot better when players either don’t say anything or give polished, platitude-laden answers to every question.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  30. Pig.Pen says:

    Unfortunately, Harper’s comments are serving as a distraction and disguise for the real story: Matt Williams is a complete failure as the Nationals Manager. He doesn’t use bullpen pitchers for sometimes up to a week at time, brings in LOOGY’s to face righties, doesn’t rest aging veterans like Werth or slumping hitters like Ian Desmond, he’s alienated the Face of the Franchise while calling him out publicly, stays with starters–and relievers–for too long and makes some of the worst LOLineup cards not filled out by Dusty Baker. I’m of the belief that managers don’t have too much of an impact on team performance, unless they’re this bad in which case they can cost a team 3-4 wins a year. Williams is Dusty Baker-esque in complicating the easiest managerial job in baseball and getting it totally wrong in the process.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  31. Alan says:

    When I clicked on this article I thought it was going to be about Williams continuing to bat Harper 6th.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. Bat sixth and shut up says says:

    Espinosa will get his at bats. Shut up and play Harper. I will say Span should be lower in the order (not leadoff) considering Werth, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Harper, Rendon and Desmond are better hitters. Yet Span is a real good Center fielder and should be i

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bat sixth and shut up says says:

      should be in for defense at the least. Harper just wants the third spot in the order and CF for his ego. Stay healthy, play well and shut up. Do what Matt Williams says and learn something.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • What would he learn from Matt Williams? How to be a shitty manager and turn your team against you within a month?

        I’m sure you were saying the same when Pedroia and Youk were clashing with Bobby V, right?

        Harper shouldn’t be airing his dirty laundry in public, but let’s not pretend that Williams has anything of value to offer in this situation.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  33. hscer says:

    Mostly agree, but Espinosa ought to get some starts vs. left-handed pitchers (career wRC+ vs. LHP: Espinosa 118, Span 102), especially as Harper has been fine in center in his opportunities there.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  34. Yiddy McGiddy says:

    Bryce Harper is a faster version of Ken Phelps, or he’s Claudell Washington at best. Trade him while most people haven’t realized this and allow him to fulfill his denstiny as an American League DH.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  35. Visitor says:

    With the way Williams has treated him, does anyone else wonder if the Nationals may so undervalue Harper that he’s not long for the team?

    Williams has clearly had it in for Harper all year, so it just seems like he must have front office backing for his treatment of Harper. Which may mean that the Nationals, like far too many fans, are severely undervaluing Harper based on the “spoiled, lazy, overhyped kid” narrative that has no backing.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. Kewl but says:

    Uhmm yeah but … I’m not sure what side of the Strasburg shutdown you were Dave Cameron? But as I recall he
    was shut down to protect his career? Due to a protocol set up for Tommy John’s “survivors”. But, his arm was healthy as far as everyone knew? And they had a legitimate shot at a world series? But Rizzo still chose to shut him down.

    Now fast forward to today. You have a third baseman with a degenerative shoulder who has spent a good part of the previous 4 seasons on the DL because of it? Of course this season it was a broken thumb … still the result of leaving it on the field for the Nats at third base is a degenerative shoulder after very complex, and serious surgical repair. Now Matt Williams throws this player back over to third base after he expressed a strong desire to remain in left field in order to avoid a repeat of the previous four seasons … at the beginning of the a 6 year 100 million dollar full no-trade clause inclusive contract? And, you, Dave Cameron and your statistics which do not measure Zimmerman’s medical condition are going to risk further career ending injuries because you need to keep Span, an average CF who I believe could easily be replaced by Nate McLouth? A guy with a minimal arm and is a brain dead base runner based on what we’ve seen this season. A declining OBP and wOBA since his concussion year? A lead-off hitter who mostly almost refuses to walk. A CF whose UZR and UZR/150 are at their worst since the concussion year?

    Really?

    Maybe Harper is smarter then you give him credit for.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  37. John Wagener says:

    In a lineup with Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and an emerging Anthony Rendon, should the nationals consider trading Ryan Zimmerman for pitching and/or young talent? Or trading LaRoche and moving Zimmerman to first where his arm wouldn’t have as big of an impact as it does at third base?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Umpire Weekend says:

      How much of Zimmerman’s contract should the Nats kick in to make a deal like that worthwhile?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *