Will Beastmode Be Leastmode? A Look At the Nats Outfield
The long lasting National(s) nightmare is over, as we are graced with the return of Beastmode, Michael Morse. After having sustained a latissumus dorsi injury, more than likely associated with his move to the outfield and the throws accompanying a patrol of said position, #38 is poised for a raucous return to the home nine.
With this brings minor turmoil to the lineup; the emergence of Steve Lombardozzi, and the return of the previously potent and man of significant first base defensive prowess Adam LaRoche, we have a minor logjam at the positions that Morse has come to call home. This is before we even take into consideration other players that have manned the field in Morse's absence, players such as Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina, and Bryce Harper, to name a few.
At the moment, weather willing, Morse is slated for batting cleanup (good, yes please!), and playing right field (uhh...) for tonight's game against the Atlanta Braves.
Why the 'uhh'? Well, there is no doubt that Morse's potent bat is a huge welcome to the otherwise feeble offense of the Nationals, but history does tell us that it comes at a cost -- a cost to the tune of a career -3.5 defensive Wins Above Repalcement (dWAR). To say that Morse is lacking in glove love is to put it gently.
Over his time as a National, Morse has manned a couple of fielding positions, in particular, first base, as well as left and right field. He has also seen time as a Nat at DH during interleague games, and *gasp* third base.
But for the last two years at the helm of all things Beastmode, let's just consider his time at first, left and right. Obviously, his bat cannot be rotting on the bench; there have to be some folks that grab some pine that are playing the positions that Morse is comfortable with.
Who will it be, and who will move positions to make room for our beloved #38?
Let's grab some numbers - taking into consideration that Morse will not play over LaRoche at 1B, as LaRoche's defensive numbers, as well as his resurgence as a potent middle of the lineup hitter will block that move wholeheartedly...
Here, I have accumlated some stats, courtesy of Baseball Reference: I have taken everyone that has played left field, right field, and have also taken the guys that typically play left/right field, but can play center (not a position that Morse plays), and have seen how their shift over to center field would work out.
Without a doubt, offensive production from the outfielders has been... lacking. The loss of Jayson Werth for a significant portion of the season *really* hurts the Nats, not only offensively, but defensively. However, we do see that the limited time that Steve Lobardozzi has seen over in LF has been fairly productive.
Of course, we have the wunderkind, that has been playing like his hair was on fire, Bryce Harper; no matter where you put him, he is doing his damnedest to make plays. As we can see, however, CF is his spot; looking at his OPS, and BABIP, he is something special patrolling CF in terms of offense, small sample sizes be damned.
In right field, taking out Werth's numbers, no one has really stepped up to the challenge of filling the void that Werth's wrist injury left us; Harper has had some success, but his offensive numbers at CF trump those manning RF.
So that leaves us with giving Morse a shot at RF, which has it's pros and cons. Of course his power cannot be denied, and needs to be in the otherwise anemic Nats offense, but in general, throws from RF are more taxing. If you consider some of the most powerful and strongest arms to ever grace a baseball field - think of former Expos greats Vladimir Guerrero, and Larry Walker - were stationed in right field, the fact that Morse's meh defensive prowess, and arm, and the fact his recent injury was due to the wear and tear of throwing from left field, a position typically where you hide weaker armed OF's, well...I will let you put 2 + 2 together. Looking at Morse's career bouncing around the diamond, in search of a place that hides his defensive insufficiencies, we must note that he is a less terrible defensive right fielder compared to other positions, as shown by his Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average rating (Rtot) but is still pretty stone handed. The price you pay for a Silver Slugger level bat in your lineup.
But, if you look at Beastmode's offensive splits in the outfield (see above), we see that he is a much more productive offnesive player in RF than LF. Given that this is probably his home for the season defensively, it bodes well to see him continue to produce runs for the Nationals, without being hindered by playing Gold Glove caliber defense. However, this will probably see the end of Rick Ankiel and his rocket arm manning center field.
Overall, the return of Morse, defensive warts be damned, looks to be the breath of Beast air the offense is looking for. Yes, it comes at a cost, but one that an outfield of Lombardozzi in LF, and Harper in CF helping out Morse in RF can more than handle.
And let's be honest, Mark DeRosa needs some company on the bench.