As we speak, the Nationals OF isn’t looking that pretty. Who deserves a spot next season? Austin Kearns, entering the prime of his career (27 years old) was supposed to hit about .275 with 25+ HRs. Instead, while his average isn’t bad (.263) and his OBP is decent (.348), he’ll be happy if he gets to 15 HRs. The last time he had an ISO under .200 was in 2004, when he was at .189. This year he’s sitting at .140. It’s not just a bad season, it’s his worst so far, by about .040 points. It’s simply not a competitive number for a starting RFer.

Moving right to left on TV screen, in CF, Nook Logan has effectively hit his way out of acceptability into the area of not-goodness we all expected. Great, he’s super fast. As the saying goes, you can run yourself into being a .250 hitter if you’re fast. What’s he got above that? Not much it seems. Despite starting hot, he’s now down to .264/.307/.341, which means he is barely getting on base, he hits with almost no power and his speed is wasted since he can’t get on enough to steal. He’s a valuable resource to have, with the speed and the glove, but he certainly hasn’t shown he’s earned a spot in the starting lineup.

And finally, in left field, former starter (?) Ryan Church‘s disappointing performance has been the topic of many discussions already. Suffice it to say, he hasn’t hit nearly as poorly as everyone has said. It’s not corner outfield outstanding, but .265/.341/.442 is not terrible. As a CF, this would make him one of the better ones (in terms of OPS) in the league. For LFers, it puts him squarely towards the bottom.

Then we move on to the much loved Wily Mo Pena, Wilhelm Moishe, WiMo, WiMax, Wily Coyote, etc etc. Definitely the player of the month on this team (.327/.373/.582 in September), despite having a reputation as an atrocious fielder, he has shown the kind of bat that keeps players in the lineup despite the occasional misplay. So far, in about 60 FEWER at bats, he has hit 3 more HRs as a National then as a Red Stocking. His ISO is a whopping .287 as a Nat. The righty only hit 1 HR in tiny Fenway, despite 92 PAs, while he’s already hit 2 in spacious RFK with only 40 PAs. Sure its only one more, but it may be a predictor of something more. He has also seem to have cut down on the strikeouts. He only has 26 with this team, projecting out to something like 140 in a full season. This is high, but better than rates he’s shown in the past. And it’s not comically high these days. Unfortunately, the exuberance for Wily may be of the irrational variety. He needs to do this over a longer stretch than a month, or even two. The kind of power he has shown, in a team with no real power hitters to speak of, should put him on the fast track to being the starting LFer next season.

So what to do with Kearns, Nook and Church? Well, logically it seems that Kearns and Church may benefit from moving outside of RFK. As I mentioned in a previous post, their home and away splits would be laughable… if they were on a different team. Since they’re on the Nats it just should fill you with melancholy. But hope springs eternal. Perhaps the new park will give more power from both of them. And neither had a horrendous season, there was enough there to be optimistic, albeit not enough to be excited. Nook, to paraphrase Denny Green, appears to be just what we thought he was. A new ballpark isn’t gonna help him. The scary thing is, if he sees closer fences, he may get even WORSE as he thinks he can hit the ball over them. He can’t, so he shouldn’t try. If I was managing this team, going to bat with the team I had, I’d put Pena in LF, Kearns in RF and Church in CF, because that’s the best I could go with. Then I’d cross my fingers and hope someone else appears in my roster for the spring. But that’s something I’ll talk about after the playoffs.

Shawn Hill and some other guys

Well, since I again talked about the OF situation, and I’m nothing if not repetitive, let me repeat something else. Shawn Hill is good at pitching. I’m not getting all crazy about it, he’s not gonna strike out 200 batters, but if he can stay healthy, he appears to be a top of the rotation guy. 63/24 Ks/BBs is pretty damn good, approaching 3/1 makes stats guys smile (4/1 is incredible and 5/1 is Johan). He hasn’t given up a lot of hits either, and his ERA has maintained it’s slim figure at 3.01. He’s a definite starter for next season, with Patterson falling into a black hole, if he can stay healthy he’s the best one the Nats have. I’d say he’s the only good one, but shockingly Tim Redding doesn’t allow for that. Because he’s been really good, too. Reddings peripherals are scary (in a bad way), an exact 1/1 K/BB ratio and a WHIP of 1.44 tells you that he isn’t killing guys out there. But those numbers are a little skewed by some really shaky starts, especially recently. If he can get back on track, he will be penciled in as a starter next season. Maybe O’Connor and Chico can round out the starters with a healthy dose of Bergmann, Lannan and Patterson (is there such thing as a healthy anything of Patterson) as #5. Detwiler is probably not ready to start, and relieving up in the majors is nice, but he’d probably learn more about his own pitches by having to turn a lineup over 3 times a game. So if he plays, he should start. If you don’t see him make all batters look foolish next spring, don’t expect to see him early next summer. Looking at the rotation, it needs to be healthy to be decent, but there is some talent there. Young talent, too, which should make Nats fans nervously optimistic.

By Charlie