Thursday, July 2, 2009

Elijah Gets Passed Over

I don't have much to say about this move. I don't like it, of course, as one of the biggest fans of Dukes around. He's in a slump, but between his solid right-field defense and rare combination of patience, power, and contact skills, he's arguably the most valuable player on the team after Ryan Zimmerman.

I also think that with Morgan in the fold and Harris available as another back-up infielder that there's no value in keeping Ron Belliard around. He's done and needs to retire.

Still, it's hard not to recognize that Josh Willingham is having the best year of his career, judging by rate stats. He deserves to play.

Really what needs to happen is the team needs to finally unclog this logjam and make a move. And that move seems imminent. Unfortunately, it appears that it's Dukes, the most talented and youngest player among the glut of corner outfielders, who's on his way out.

Maybe that's not right. Rizzo insists it's a baseball move resulting from Dukes's slump and Hammer's hot streak, and that they just want to make sure that Dukes can play every day. And if this is a short-term move while the team figures out how to move Josh Willingham, then that's fine.

But with all the talk about "changing the culture" and bringing in "good clubhouse guys," it's hard not to think Dukes is done in DC.

Which is a shame. Jim Bowden did some good things here, and getting Dukes for next to nothing was the very best single move he made. It's still impossible to imagine the team getting equal win value for Dukes, given all the baggage he still carries, despite more or less two years of model citizenship with the Nationals.

We still have to withhold judgment, but if the team is sending off its most talented players in favor of nice guys who show up on time but can't hit a lick, fans have reason to worry.


An Briosca Mor said...

"We still have to withhold judgment, but if the team is sending off its most talented players in favor of nice guys who show up on time but can't hit a lick, fans have reason to worry."

Right, because look where all the clubhouse cancers who couldn't show up on time for their own funerals - much less games, team meetings, their own surgeries and their own demotion days - got us.

Michael said...

With respect, Dukes has behaved himself and has a great throwing arm. But he does not have great outfield instincts, his hitting has been atrocious (he tries to pull everything even though it's obvious that he should go to right on the outside pitching everyone is giving him) and he is reportedly a cancer on team morale. It was a mistake to get both him and Milledge.

estuartj said...

I have a different take on Dukes clubhouse presence. His issues are clear and I've heard it said that he doesn't have a friend in the clubhouse (although I've also heard he and Harris are "tight"), but NO ONE has questioned his work ethic. All reports are that he works hard and if he stays to himself, we'll that isn't a crime.

I think they need to play NJ, Dunn and Willingham at the same time and Dukes can't play decent enough CF to make that line-up, if he isn't going to play every day for the Nats he needs to play every day for Syracuse.

If I had to guess (or bet, but I never bet) I think Nick Johnson gets traded in the next few weeks (he needs to get on a streak!) and Dunn will move to 1B and Willingham to LF and Dukes will come back to play full time in RF.

Just a guess....

Bland Moniker said...

I heard (anecdotally) that Dukes is actually a surprisingly big hearted guy. Not so much when Nishea Dukes is involved, but otherwise. He's quiet in the clubhouse, but I haven't heard that he's a "cancer on team morale." I'm willing to be corrected on that point, but to my knowledge Dukes isn't a problem.

John O'Connor said...

I pretty much agree with estuartj. I think the idea here is they can't move Dukes because they can't get value for him, so they need to showcase Dunn, Willingham, and Johnson every day.

We've seen rumblings that Dukes might not be beloved in the locker room, and I'll just say (1) I'm not sure how important that is in baseball, (2) it's mostly based on anaonymous quotes from players who migth have their own agendas, and (3) it very well might be true. So would it shock me that they were figuring out a soft way to dump Dukes? Not really, though showcasing other guys for trades is probably the most logical plan here.

Steven said...

That's what I hope is happening. We don't know--only Rizzo and Kasten know. And who knows--maybe they don't agree but aren't telling each other, like this ex-girlfriend of mine who used to say she liked it when I did certain things but then when she was mad would say she was mad I insisted on doing those things.

TMI, I know. Sorry.

MikeHarris said...

Can someone please provide one link to where someone has said anything about Dukes being a problem in the clubhouse?

I'm not saying it is wrong. I've just missed the references to it.

estuartj said...

I totally agree with Steve on Belliard, the guy is wasting a roster spot at this point.

We'd be better off with an 8th reliever since Harris can play 3b & 2b and Dunn can play 1B we wouldn't really be short on the bench with only 5 infielders. If were going to have a 6th infielder why not someone who can pinch hit like...well ok let's go with 8 relievers - I think Acta could make use of Bergmann (if Rizzo would let him).

An Briosca Mor said...

Chico Harlan has reported that Dukes has very few friends in the Nationals clubhouse. Sorry, I don't have a link for that.

John O'Connor said...

Here you go, Mike Harris. The anonymous quote I refeenced is toward the end of this Kurkjian piece. And, as ABM said, there was the Harlan piece that said he has no real friends on he team.

Steven said...

I just don't understand why we care about whether he has friends on the team or not. This isn't the glee club. These guys are supposed to be professionals.

If Dukes was actively disrupting in some totally unmanageable way, like Milton Bradley is now, or Terrell Owens, that'd be one thing.

But there are no reports like that. It's really Manny's job to keep guys motivated and focused. If he needs a team of boy scouts to achieve that, then there's your problem.

John O'Connor said...

I generally agree with you Steven. Baseball is a team sport but it's really an aggregation of individual performances. It's not like basketball or football in that respect. Do your job, help the team.

Can someone be so disruptive that it gets everybody in the wrong mindset? Sure, but I suspect that's exceedingly rare.

I like Dukes as a player, and he's pleasant to my kid when she gets his autograph. He's completely lost at the plate right now, and he seems to loaf it a bit in the outfiled chasing down balls. I wonder if his legs aren't quite right yet. He looks like he's playing on roller skates sometimes.

Mark said...

Good move by Rizzo. If Dukes takes it on the chin, works on his chops in Syracuse and lets the manager do his job, its a win all around. He'll be back. Morgan, Dukes, Dunn, Willingham & Harris is a serviceable outfield/bench.

Kearns & Belliard need to go next.

Souldrummer said...

Maybe it is something in the Nationals uniforms that turns guys to dust. Hanrahan pitches a scoreless inning in his first outing for the Bucs.

And here's this nugget on our old pal Langerhans, who I believe was particularly cherished in this space.

From the Seattle Times.
"NEW YORK — Recently acquired Ryan Langerhans started in left field for the Mariners against the Yankees on Thursday.

That was a bit of a surprise, considering he's a left-handed batter and the Yankees started pitcher CC Sabathia, also a lefty.

Langerhans was 2 for 4 with a double and was thrown out trying to steal second base in the second inning.

Langerhans will get the bulk of the playing time in left field when there's a right-handed pitcher on the mound. Wladimir Balentien gave manager Don Wakamatsu a reason to start Langerhans when he was picked off base Wednesday night."

David said...

There may be many reason for sending Elijah down now. I think the major one is for the Nationals to showcase Willingham, and Harris. With Nyjer Morgan now on the team CF is set. Dunn will continue to play the OF until Nick gets traded or the Nationals get wowed by a trade for Dunn. This move is all about playing tradable players and if you don’t think Harris is tradable why are the Nats constantly pumping him in the media, think Tony Phillips with less power and lower OBP. Dukes at this point in his career is not tradable to a contending team because of the perceived disruption factor. Dukes has awesome potential but I think we see what a team built only with potential gives you. If Dukes takes the demotion well and trades are made we will see him back on the Nationals this year.

MikeHarris said...

Thanks John O'Connor (I used to work with a John O'Connor - is that you?).
The link provided said he was a disruptive influence. That's a lot different from saying he doesn't have friends. Many people are loners. Doesn't make the disruptive.
"Would be a happier place if he left" says a whole lot. That speaks to more than being a loner.

JCA-CrytalCity said...

"rare combination of patience, power, and contact skills"

I'm not sure what you mean by "contact skills." He was below average on in zone and out of zome contact % each of his 3 seasons in the majors.

As for his patience, I was a big fan of that last year, too. However, this year he has regressed substantially. His out of zone swing % was 20.3% last year (5.1% better than average) to 27.8% (2.9% worse).

It's pretty clear his plate discipline has regressed. Maybe it is deliberate to be more aggressive because he sees more strike zone pitches than average, but he's not improving his contact rate as this new, more aggressive hitter.

I hope he can get back to what he looked like he was. A trip to the minors might help.

(all stats per his fangraphs page)

Steven said...

Dukes has slumped recently, and the sample size is still pretty small. But for his career he has a 13.4% walk rate, 26% K rate, and .435 SLG. You don't see that combination very much from a just-turned-25-year-old.

By no means am I saying he's a contact hitter, but among sluggers that's very solid.