- Austin Kearns might once again be a useful baseball player. In 23 plate appearances, he walked 5 times and had 3 hits, including a double and a homer, good for a .348 OBP and .389 SLG. Those aren't world-beating numbers, but the fact that 2 of his 3 hits went of extra bases combined with his good spring gives me hope that he's healthy and ready to put 2008 behind him. He's always had good plate discipline and on-base skills, and so far this year he's leading the team swinging at just 12% of pitches out of the zone. If you look at all his numbers last year, it was really the .099 ISO power that really jumps out at you, and chances are in hindsight it was the elbow more than anything.
- Still, Elijah Dukes should be out there every day. Forget potential. He's our best player right now. Dukes in his 18 plate appearances got on base at a .444 clip with 5 base hits, a double, and 2 walks. The team was all worked up over his strikeouts this spring, but his 25% K-rate in the first week was right in line with what he did last year. His plate discipline isn't quite there yet, as he swung at an un-Elijah-like 36% of pitches out of the zone and as a result drew walks in just 11% of his PAs. With consistent playing time he should knock 15 points or so off the first rate and add 3-4 to the second. He also played better defense than Kearns, besting him 0.9 to 0.0 in tiny sample-size UZR stat for week one and ringing up an outfield assist.
- Trouble may lie ahead for Cristian Guzman. Yeah, I know he's hitting .429. But his .545 BABIP is the epitome of small sample size weirdness. My concern is that he's been much more of a free swinger and making less contact than in any season in his career. He's swinging at 38.1% of pitches out of the zone, compared to 27.9% last year, with a 78.6% contact rate, compared to 88.3% last year. As a result, he's striking out at a 21.7% clip, which if he keeps that up will reduce him to replacement level in no time. And of course he's yet to take a walk. It's just one week in, but this isn't how Guzzy can maintain success.
- So far, this year's Odalis Perez/Tim Redding surprise has yet to emerge. The last two years we've lucked out with dumpster-diving castoffs giving surprisingly tolerable performances in the rotation. This year, it feels like chickens are coming home to roost, as Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera are doing not one bit better than the pessimists predicted. There might not be a Perez or Redding on this team, which could be scary.
- Ryan Zimmerman is still a slow starter. He's got himself a 3% walk rate, a 28% K-rate, and a .241 OBP. The good news is that he's hitting for power, as 5 of his 6 hits have gone for extra bases.
- Lastings Milledge is still young. Leave him alone. If you ever want this team to get better, you'll have to endure growing pains with young, talented players. It appears he's actually trying too hard to play to his new role as a lead-off man, as he's swinging at just 40.2% of the pitches he sees, down from 49% in his career. I want him to be more selective, but it's the pitches in the zone he's letting go by. He's swinging at 28.3% of pitches out of the zone, compared to 31.7% last year, meanwhile he's swinging at just 53.7% of pitches in the zone, way down from 67.1% for his career. Dare I say he needs to be more aggressive, and Manny might do him a favor to take him out of the lead-off spot, since it just seems to be messing him up.
Monday, April 13, 2009
It's probably best for Nationals fans to think of this season as another learning experience. We are learning how to be patient, all the various ways a team can lose a ballgame, and of course we're learning which of our young players will and will not be a part of the first great Nationals team. Here's my take on what we learned from week one:
Posted by Steven at 2:27 PM