As everyone knows, the two most volatile parts of a baseball team are the bench and bullpen. Relievers are who they are because they are failed starters, and bench players are usually not consistent enough to play everyday. So, when we see how markedly different the 2012 and 2013 Washington Nationals benches were, it’s not very surprising that they did not produce year to year.
The 2012 and 2013 benches had two constants. One was a litter of young players that management felt would be wasting their talents in the minors, while the other was a veteran reclamation project a la Chad Tracy. He was surrounded by names like Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Jeff Kobernus and so on.
The problem with young players on a bench is that they are not used to the bright lights of the majors, and thus are usually unable to carry over their success from year to year.
Take Moore as an example. In 2012, he posted a solid .263/.327/.513 slash line with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs coming off Washington’s bench. Things did not go nearly as well in 2013 as he was demoted to the minors after breaking camp on Washington’s bench, and he finished the year with a paltry .222/.260/.347 slash line with four home runs and 21 RBIs.
Lombardozzi suffered a similar, though not as extreme fate, as he slashed .273/.317/.354 with three home runs, 27 RBIs and 105 hits in 2012, which caused many fans to begin to view him as something of a Nationals god. Much like Moore, he took a step back in 2013, though he played in eight less games.
His slash line dropped to .259/.278/.338 with two home runs, 22 RBIs and only 75 hits, though he somehow managed to cut his strikeouts year to year from 46 in 2012 to 34 in 2013. Regardless, Lombardozzi is now with the Detroit Tigers, as Mike Rizzo was able to spin a lifetime backup utility player into Doug Fister.
Rizzo has more or less put the bench through an extreme makeover of sorts. Tracy is not returning, Lombardozzi has been traded away and Danny Espinosa, who was leapfrogged by Anthony Rendon due to injuries and ineffectiveness, is now expected to take the reins Lombardozzi relinquished after being dealt.
They will be joined by the additions of Mike Fontentot, Jamey Carroll and Nate McLouth. With all these newcomers in mind, how different will Washington’s bench look in 2014?
Well, it goes without saying that it’ll be pretty different. First off, Davey Johnson believed in having some big boppers on his bench who could come up in a spot late in the game and put the ball in the seats. Thus far, it seems new manager Matt Williams has a slightly different bench vision.
He has alluded to trying to get his players regular rest, which reveals some of the logic behind bringing in McLouth, who can play all three outfield spots and has averaged 101 games played the past two seasons and who played 146 in 2013, his highest total since 2009. McLouth provides some pop, but he is more of a contact hitter with some speed and a player who can probably start 2-4 times a week.
Fontenot and Carroll are speedy, contact-hitting infielders who can play pretty much every infield position and slap the ball all around the field. Carroll is known as a very good pinch hitter, and could come up and get on base late in the game, setting up the Nationals’ big hitters. Espinosa and Moore are probably the two most power-centric hitters Williams will use if they break camp with the team.
Needless to say, Washington’s bench in 2014 is going to be about getting on base, taking what they are given, and maybe hitting a home run or two. Speed and defense are definitely going to be at the forefront in Washington this year.