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Who’s starting in right field for the Nationals?

Posted By Sam Diament On Mar 19 2010 @ 11:26 pm In Washington Nationals | No Comments

[UPDATED: 3/29/2010 12:15 AM] Nine days later, Justin Maxwell has been optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. It looks like he will not be starting in right field for the Nationals. Given the current situation, I expect Willie Harris and Mike Morse to platoon. I sincerely hope that Roger Bernadina makes the team as the fifth outfielder over Willy Taveras.

The Nationals released outfielder Elijah Dukes on Wednesday purely for “baseball reasons.”  Of course, given his age, salary, and potential, it is not hard to see through the front office’s smoke screen.  The Nationals released Dukes because they did not want him around anymore.  It had nothing to do with baseball reasons.

What’s done is done, but the question that now arises is who is going to start in right field for the Nationals in 2010.

My vote goes to Justin Maxwell [1].

I was curious about projecting a WAR for Maxwell in 2010 and inspired to do some work by the work of Fangraphs’ Bryan [2] Smith [3].  Smith used a rather unscientific method to project WARs for Mariners’ catcher Adam Moore and Phillies’ outfielder Dominic Brown.

Without further ado, here is my projection for Justin Maxwell’s 2010 WAR.

To begin, I assigned Maxwell 380 plate appearances.  I admit that this is arbitrary, but I believe he will share at-bats with Mike Morse and Willie Harris.  Plus, given Maxwell’s injury history, it seems appropriate to put a cap on his playing time.  380 PA gives Maxwell 12.67 runs above replacement.

The second step is to figure out the positional adjustment.  Given Nyjer Morgan’s ability to play every day and Willie Harris’ presence as the backup centerfielder, I believe most of Maxwell’s PAs will come from right field.  However, I allocated 50 plate appearances to center field.  Thus, Maxwell’s positional adjustment is -3.92 runs.

In order to calculate fielding runs, I used data from Minor League Splits [4].  Maxwell has historically been an average to good fielder in the corners and not so good in centerfield.  However, every time I hear a scouting report of Maxwell, his fielding is always praised.  I gave him +3 runs.

By far, the most fun part about this calculation was calculating Maxwell’s offensive runs.  Based on his performance in the Minor Leagues and some (arbitrary) adjustments, I gave Maxwell 30% K, 11% BB, .315 BABIP, and 12 HR.  These resulted in a .230 AVG, .323 OBP, .430 SLG, 24 2B, 3 3B, and a .337 wOBA, or about 4.87 runs above average.

Adding it all up, Maxwell is due for 16.62 runs, or 1.6 wins above replacement.  That is certainly not a great total, but the Nationals are not exactly looking to win this year.  Maxwell posted 1.1 WAR in 2009 in 102 PA, but please don’t try to multiply that by 3.8 and see if it matches my number.  This is just a fun method to try and project how Maxwell will perform in 2010.

2010 is an important year for Maxwell.  He recently turned 26 and must prove that he deserves a job in the Major Leagues.

While planning out this post, I was trying to think of a comparison for Maxwell.  The best one that I came up with is Mike Cameron [5].  Since 2002, Cameron has posted less than 4.1 WAR only three times, and even his down years produced WARs of 3.2, 2.0, and 2.2.

Cameron was called up for good at age 24, two years younger than Justin Maxwell will be in 2010.  Keep that in mind while you read Maxwell’s and Cameron’s career minor league statistics.

Mike Cameron:  2554 PA, 10.9% BB, 21.8% K, .319 BABIP, .775 OPS, .338 wOBA

Justin Maxwell:  1506 PA, 11.3% BB, 24.6% K, .317 BABIP, .793 OPS, .346 wOBA

The numbers are actually very similar.  I am not declaring that Maxwell will develop into the next Mike Cameron (that would be great, wouldn’t it?).  Maxwell is 26 and has yet to prove anything in the big leagues, but he does have playing experience in college (which evens out the Minor League playing experience compared to Cameron).  So, maybe Maxwell can break out in 2010 and play up to his potential which we have heard so much about since he was drafted.

Maxwell and Cameron is an interesting comparison to keep in mind while Maxwell trots out to his position in right field come April.

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URLs in this post:

[1] Justin Maxwell: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=6827&position=OF

[2] Bryan: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/risky-and-rosy/

[3] Smith: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/moore-analysis/

[4] Minor League Splits: http://www.minorleaguesplits.com/index.html

[5] Mike Cameron: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1070&position=OF

[6] Subscribe to author's RSS feed: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/author/vladman1327/feed/

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