Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Ideas on the NL and AL East

Some quick ideas on the NL East playoff race and a related idea.

First, the Nationals: they need all the help they can get catching up to the Braves right now, especially in the lineup. They currently have a team weighted runs created+ of 83, twenty-eighth in the league (and remember, it works like OPS+; 100 is league average). They need all their bats they can get. They should be getting their best hitter (Bryce Harper, 166 wRC+) back soon. Their next two best are Ryan Zimmerman (127 wRC+) and recent call-up Anthony Rendon (149), so those two need to stay in the lineup. However, they’re both third basemen.

The current plan seems to be play Rendon at second. I’ve seen some argue that, for a player with ankle injury history like his, that could end badly (between pivots and slides and all that). In any case, he’s been rather lackluster there.

Zimmerman has also failed to impress with his fielding this year. A shoulder injury has given him some issues, particularly on his throws. He already has 11 errors this year, 10 of which came on throws. He has been a good fielder in the past, though. Some have suggested moving him to first, but he’s blocked by Adam LaRoche.

So why not switch the two? For now, at least. There’s history for third basemen playing second base (in addition to Rendon trying it, Matt Carpenter for the Cardinals had proved wildly successful), and we know Zimmerman has a great glove based on his past; his arm just appears to be the problem at the moment. Why not move him somewhere to make his throws shorter while moving Rendon back to his natural position? Both are already posting pretty negative fielding numbers, so I’m not sure it’ll get much worse.

At the very least, this is my simplistic way of seeing it; they have two third basemen. One should play second, based on what the Nationals’ plan seems to be. Why not move the guy that’s had issues making the throw from third this year, since we know he has the glove?

On the team they’re playing catch-up to, Jason Heyward has looked disappointing this year. I pointed out that he’s hitting really well, but getting unlucky the other day. His season batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is still only .247. What would it look like with better luck?

Well, it’s possible to calculate a player’s expected BABIP. I got curious the other day and tested it out; he’s still about 70 points off where he probably should be (.314). That may be a big pick-me-up for a middling (100 wRC+) Braves offense.

On a bonus note, I decided to look at an AL East player, Nate McLouth. I’ve loved what he’s done for the Orioles this year and last, but I had no idea whether he could keep it up. His batted ball data is mixed too; he has more line drives than he has in the past (23.8% of his batted balls have been line drives, compared to 18.9% career), but less power (only 31.8% fly balls, compared to 41.6% career, 5.6% home runs per fly ball rate compared to 9.7% career). So, while I was at it, I plugged in his numbers.

The good news is that his .313 BABIP looks much more maintainable, given that his xBABIP came out to be .337. That’s not that massive a gulf, and it may be that he’s even likely to fall off. To be honest, I’d take his current rate without hesitation; considering they got him for essentially nothing, he’s already past “icing on the cake”. O’s GM Dan Duquette is looking smart on this one.

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