Can The Nats Continue Their Push Towards A Title With Brad Wilkerson Leading Off? I Say No
[June 18th] Yeah, yeah, I know. The Nationals lost to the Texas Rangers 8-1 Friday Night in Arlington Texas. John Patterson pitched badly enough to lose but could have won on another night. Cristian Guzman continued his to push to distance himself from the Mendoza line by getting 2 hits, one a home run. But the Nationals loss means nothing. The Angels clobbered the Nats 11-1 a few nights ago and Washington came back to win the last two games of the series. They're just as apt to do that again.
No, the problem isn't the loss. The problem is Brad Wilkerson.
For those of you have been reading my site for any length of time knows that I shy away at being negative; I always look for the silver lining. I mean, that Hitler fella created a highway system so great that one of the first things that President Eisenhower did was to duplicate it here in America. See? There is always something positive if you look hard enough. That brings us to the aforementioned Mr. Wilkerson.
While still drooling over the prospect of a baseball returning to Washington, I began to research the Expos players, and Wilkerson intrigued me above all else. He had speed. He had power. He could lead off. He could bat cleanup. He cold do so many things.
And he was so young. He could only get better.
But I have begun to realize two things about Brad Wilkerson. One, I don't think he is going to get better, and two, his strikeout totals are becoming disruptive to the team. I sat down in my comfy chair last night just in time to hear Brad Wilkerson strike out to begin the game. His next at bat, with two runners on and two outs, he struck out again. He struck out one more time, going 0-5 with 3 strikeouts, lowering his average to .275.
Some say a strikeout is just an out; no more and no less. I say that is bunk. Let's go back to Wilkerson's 2nd at bat last night and change the outcome. Runners on first and second with two out. Wilkerson grounds to shortstop Michael Young who throws the ball over Texeira's head and down the right field line. Both runs score and the Nats are ahead 2-0. Or perhaps he hits a fly ball to right that should have been caught, but Hidalgo lost it in the lights and those two runs scored. Unearned runs score every night in major league baseball, but to get an unearned run, the ball has to be put in play. Who among us doesn't remember the "rain game" between the Braves and Nats earlier this year at RFK? The Braves player hit a grounder to Guzman at short, who threw the wet ball wide of first allowing two runs to score. If that player strikes out, the Nats win and Cordero gets the save. But the ball was put in play, and the Nats lost the game.
Brad Wilkerson has averaged about 150 strikeouts a year. This year he will end up with more than 170. I took a quick tour through the MLB stats world and found that the typical leadoff hitter strikes out about 75 times a year. So Wilkerson fails to put the ball into play 95 more times than any other leadoff hitter in the major leagues. Who knows how many unearned runs that will cost the Nationals. Outs can be productive as well. With a runner on 2nd and one out, a long fly ball can move that runner to third. A strikeout can't. With runners on first and second and no outs, a ground ball can move them to second and third. A strikeout can't.
As of this morning, Brad Wilkerson is striking out 29% of the time he comes to the plate. Let's compare that to his fellow Washington Nationals: Nick Johnson: 20% -- Jamie Carroll: 17% [Spivey doesn't have enough at bats with Nats yet] -- Cristian Guzman: 18% -- Vinny Castilla: 13% -- Ryan Church: 24% -- Jose Guillen: 17% -- Brian Schneider: 11%. The closest to Wilkerson is Ryan Church at 24%, but that can be chalked up to his youthful inexperience. The "sluggers," Johnson, Castilla and Guillen average an astonishing 17% strikeout rate, a full 12% below the Nats leadoff hitter.
Will Brad Wilkerson get any better? The Braves Nation has been waiting for Andrew Jones to become the player everyone predicted. He is 28 now and he is what he is. I am afraid that Brad Wilkerson, age 28, is what he is. Knowing that, does he fit in with the long term plans of the Washington Nationals? We know he isn't a leadoff hitter. We know that while he hits .345 against lefties, he only bats .235 against righthanders. We know that he hits well on the road [.310] and does poorly at home [.231]. So at home, against a right hander, he is basically an automatic out.
Ever wonder why the Nationals do so poorly in the 1st inning? Does it ever vex you as to why we can't score early? In my view, it's because more often than not, we start almost every game with a strikeout. It's time we trade Wilkerson to someone who needs a power hitter for a genuine leadoff hitter, someone who can provide some instant offense.
Thanks for letting me vent. I feel much better now.