Friday, October 12, 2007

2007 Review: the Centerfielders

Chris Duffy: .249/.313/.357 with 11 2B, 3 3B, and 2 HR in 270 PAs
Nate McLouth: .258/.351/.459 with 21 2B, 3 3B, and 13 HR in 382 PAs
Nyjer Morgan: .299/.359/.430 with 3 2B, 4 3B, and 1 HR in 118 PAs

One of the most baffling "position controversies" in recent memory. Here we've got three guys that all play the same position, approximately. One (Chris Duffy) is mostly worthless. Still, the organization gave him chance after chance to play centerfield, despite a ton of evidence that he wasn't up to it. Another of the three (Nyjer Morgan) was mostly a 28-year old AAAA guy that was giftwrapped the job because he fit the bill of what the team thought a centerfielder should play like (fast, flashy glove, way way way subpar hitting skills). The third and youngest of the group (Nate McLouth) actually has some pop in his bat and really excelled in his one chance to start, but was pushed aside when a team that couldn't score runs decided it wanted more defense in center field.

Here's some food for thought: Nate McLouth lead the team in OPS for players with 350 or more plate appearances. And he did it despite the fact that on June 28th, he was hitting .218/.284/.295. From that point on, he hit .273/.373/.519 with 12 of his 13 homers in 286 PAs. He drew 36 walks (two intentional... Nate McLouth got intentionally walked twice this year, think about that) and got hit by six pitches. Basically, he found ways to get on base, he hit the ball with some pop, and he was about average in the field (BP measured him at 1 run below average). More specifically, he's got some skills that are likely to be more reproducible than the batting average heavy mirages that Chris Duffy and, more recently, Nyjer Morgan put up, especially because he got on base in the minors and did show some pop from time to time.

I suppose the handling of these three will give us a good indication of what kind of ship Neal Huntington is going to be running. Duffy will likely be gone and if Huntington can't find somewhere to ship Bay, center field will be left to McLouth and Morgan. There's really no reason not to give McLouth an extended look there, especially because he hit so much better as a starter this year than he did as a bench player. Even though he's been around for parts of three years, he won't turn 26 until the end of this month, which means there's still time for him to grow as a player. Morgan is really exciting to watch in the outfield (managing to be 8 runs above average in 28 games is a pretty difficult trick, I would imagine), but I just don't see him being useful at the plate at all over a long stretch. Still, we know he would be Tracy and Littlfield's choice every day and if that isn't a signal to play McLouth every day, I don't know what is.