VIERA, FLA. — One of the biggest effects of allowing Adam LaRoche to leave via free agency and giving first base to Ryan Zimmerman is the impact on the lineup. The Nationals ranked 10th in the majors last season in OPS (.709) against right-handed pitching and seventh with a .738 OPS against left-handed pitching. But now, Denard Span and Bryce Harper will be the lone left-handers in the everyday lineup, with Harper as the lone southpaw power threat.
And if you look further down the roster, backup outfielder Nate McLouth may be the only other left-hander on the team, as projected now. (Backup catcher and switch-hitter Jose Lobaton will rarely be used a pinch hitter and Danny Espinosa is working on hitting mostly right-handed during spring training.) Because the majority of major league pitchers are right-handed, how will the Nationals handle this?
In answering the question, Manager Matt Williams raised an interesting point. The Nationals were and are a unique bunch because of the presence of three main right-handed hitters: Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon, plus Wilson Ramos, although less so. Here’s Williams on the subject:
“The righty-righty matchup doesn’t necessarily bother guys,” Williams said. “Because growing up, if you’re a right-handed hitter, you see mostly right-handed pitching anyway. And with the current roster we’ve got, looking back to last year, there’s a few guys in our lineup that handle righties very well and have the ability to hit the ball to the opposite gap: Jayson, Anthony, Zim, Wilson. The guys that face those guys on an everyday basis have the ability to hit the ball the other way. So that matchup isn’t quite as important. We have to do things right and stay on sliders and things like that. But we do have a little bit of that up-the-middle, other-way type of stroke amongst those guys. So that matchup is not necessarily as important as a lefty-lefty matchup, if you will.”
A brief look at the production of the projected lineup does bear that out:
|Career vs. RHP||2014 vs. RHP|
|Denard Span (L)||.751 OPS||.802 OPS|
|Anthony Rendon||.774 OPS||.824 OPS|
|Jayson Werth||.803 OPS||.832 OPS|
|Ryan Zimmerman||.806 OPS||.794 OPS|
|Bryce Harper (L)||.866 OPS||.769 OPS|
|Ian Desmond||.741 OPS||.734 OPS|
|Wilson Ramos||.732 OPS||.661 OPS|
|Yunel Escobar||.722 OPS||.656 OPS|
The Nationals’ right-handed heavy lineup could perhaps give left-handed hitters such as Mike Carp and Ian Stewart a better shot at making the team over a right-handed first baseman such as Tyler Moore, who is out of minor league options. Both can play first base and could complement Zimmerman well. Carp has even career splits: he has a similar career OPS against right-handers (.746) than he does against left-handers (.736 OPS). Stewart has been slightly better against right-handers (.738 OPS) in his career than against left-handers (.701 OPS). Both had tough years last season but Carp has the slight edge in career production. In his brief major league career so far, Moore has oddly done better against right-handed pitching (.753 OPS) than against left-handed pitching (.668 OPS).
None of this, however, factors in any of these bench options’ ability to handle a pinch-hitting role, a difficult job, and the positional versatility that would fit the Nationals the best. How these players perform in spring training will go a long way in determining the shape of the rest of the Nationals’ roster.