Defense First for Nats

Morgan trade aimed at improving sinkhole in center

While yesterday's Nats/Pirates trade basically amounts to a whole lot of nothin', the Nats feel that they've traded from a position of strength to deal with a weakness.

The Nats outfield defense has been absolutely terrible all season.

The centerfielders the Nats have tried have mostly been disastrous. Milledge had terrible instincts. Dukes doesn't have the legs to get to where he needs to go. Justin Maxwell was decent, but he can't hit. 

Of the rotating cast they've had, only Willie Harris -- a utility guy who might be useful in a trade -- had any sort of success.

So how much has the bad defense cost the Nats? A lot. While defensive stats are still a growing area, one of the best is Ultimate Zone Rating, UZR. UZR uses play-by-play information to assign each play to an area of the field. Players are then compared to how others in the league do when balls of similar types (like pop-ups or line drives) are hit to that section.

After the number crunching is done, it gives an estimate for how good or bad a fielder is compared to his peers. It ain't perfect, but it's a good estimate.

The main Nats centerfielders (Dukes and Milledge) are basically 20-25 runs below an average centerfielder. That's a lot of balls dropping that others would've caught, which can't help a young pitching staff that's developing on the fly.

Nyjer Morgan, on the other hand, has some impressive defensive statistics. While he hasn't played a ton of centerfield (owing to the Buccos having an All-Star there), he's a wiz in left. And when he's played center, he's been on the order of 20 runs better than average.

Even if you assume that he can't keep that pace up for a full season and he's only 10 runs better than average, that's a 30-run improvement over Milledge and Dukes. That's a lot of extra outs. And that's why, even if the names going back and forth don't make much sense, it should help the Nats' on-field product, and the development of those young arms.

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