Three Thoughts On The Surprise Opening Day Lineup

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams shook things up a bit in his first game as the club’s skipper, unveiling a surprise lineup for the Nats in their first game of the 2014 campaign:

  1. Denard Span – Centerfield
  2. Ryan Zimmerman – Third Base
  3. Jayson Werth – Right Field
  4. Wilson Ramos – Catcher
  5. Bryce Harper – Left Field
  6. Ian Desmond – Shortstop
  7. Adam LaRoche – First Base
  8. Anthony Rendon – Second Base
  9. Stephen Strasburg – Pitcher

The new lineup certainly represented a shift from the batting order philosophies of the previous two seasons, and perhaps served as a way for Williams to leave his own personal mark on the team as they enter a new year. Many of the Nats players noted that to them the lineup was no surprise, specifically the decision to bat Ramos cleanup given the raw power he showed last season and this spring. However, to the Nats fans who have watched a relatively similar lineup over the past several seasons, it represented perhaps a refreshing new look.

Some thoughts on the moves here by Williams.

1. Batting Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper deeper in the lineup helps relieve pressure – Rendon and Harper are incredibly talented young hitters. In fact, some have made the argument that they are the two best amateur hitting prospects to come out of the draft in the past decade, or even longer. That being said, they are still young and I think we tend to underestimate how difficult it can be hitting high up in a lineup without a great deal of MLB experience.

That’s not to say that Harper and Rendon can’t handle hitting in the top four of a lineup for a playoff team, they certainly can and have. It’s just more difficult, and when you really think about the Nats lineup, it’s not entirely necessary. Washington has very likely the deepest lineup in all of baseball. Assuming everyone is healthy and hitting, why not put Rendon and Harper in a place where they will see more fastballs and still be effective? This may be less relevant for Harper, who is now entering his third season and has performed at a very high level when healthy, but Rendon needs to learn how to be a professional hitter at an MLB level. By being allowed to work the count the way he would like, and the freedom to be aggressive when he deems fit, he will have a better chance of succeeding.

Last season, when Rendon hit 7th, 8th or 9th, he hit .291/.361/.449. When he hit second, where he was slotted in the lineup more than any other spot in 2013, he hit just .225/.285/.312.

2. Adam LaRoche’s bizarre track record batting 7th - LaRoche quickly shifted from one of the teams top run producers in 2012 to a major liability in 2013. His batting average dropped 34 points, and his slugging percentage more than 100. A demotion in the lineup, even for Opening Day was a forgone conclusion coming into today’s game. That being said, LaRoche came up big for Washington in today’s win over the Mets, and it wasn’t the first time he produced in the number seven spot in the lineup throughout his career.

In 130 career games LaRoche has hit .323/.389/601 with 27 home runs and 79 RBI as the 7th hitter. That’s a far cry from his career slash marks of .264/.337/.474. Not necessarily meaningful for a player like LaRoche who has excelled in the four and five slot throughout his career, but interesting.

3. Ryan Zimmerman batting second. Odd but somehow feels right?  – On paper the argument against Zimmerman batting second is a pretty strong one. With a .256/.326/.477 career split at No. 2, he has never done particularly well there, and he also generally grounds into double plays at a high rate. That begin said, the one thing he does have going for him is the ability to get on base, and the ability to make contact. He also goes the other way very well. I still think it makes sense to put him in a position where he can drive in the most amount of runs possible, but putting runners on base in front of Werth, Ramos, and Desmond does make sense.

William Yoder

About William Yoder

Will is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Nats Blog. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2008.