So here’s an idea, why not replace a guy who just posted a .318 wOBA in his rookie season, with an older guy who put up an OBP of .278? Because you’re sober that’s why.
On Saturday, Mike Rizzo announced that next year the Nationals will have an open competition at second base. Open competitions can be good right? After all, professional athletes are competitive. Plus, it’s always a good problem to have more than one qualified starter at a position. The only problem is that the Nationals don’t have more than one qualified starter at second base. They have Anthony Rendon, another guy who struggled as a bench player and someone else who struggled to hit at AAA.
Perhaps, this is a media ploy to increase Danny Espinosa’s trade value in the offseason, which, if true, would be a smart move, but if that’s the case why include Lombardozzi? Look, I’m sure Steve Lombardozzi is a great guy, who rescues kittens from trees and helps old ladies cross the street, but it’s debatable whether he’s even a viable bench player on an MLB team. In over 300 PA’s this year, Lombardozzi posted a .269 wOBA. Lombo’s .269 wOBA put him just behind Tanner Roark, Jeff Kobernus and Scott Hairston.
Given Kobernus’ speed and ability to play the outfield the open competition next year should probably be between Kobernus and Lombardozzi for a bench spot, not between Lombo and the Rally Mullet for a starting spot.
While it could be possible that this is just a motivational ploy on the Nationals part to motivate Rendon heading into the offseason, it also appears that once again this front-office is running in the opposite direction of successful front offices like Tampa Bay or Oakland who use advanced metrics.
Steve Lombardozzi plays good defense, hits for decent average for a utility infielder and plays the game hard. He would be a very serviceable bench guy or spot starter if not for one glaring weakness in his game: He almost refuses to take walks. In 2012, in over 400 PA’s he posted a BB% of just 4.6%, but in 2013 that number dropped to a Shawon Dunston-esque 2.6%. To offer some perspective, the free-swinging Ian Desmond posted a 6.6 BB% and the patient Bryce Harper posted a 12.3 BB%.
The idea of an open competition isn’t just a bad one because Lombardozzi is bad, but because Rendon is very good. Had Rendon not been injured in his last season at Rice, he likely would have been the 1st player selected in the 2011 draft. Rendon was also injured in 2012 and 2013 was his first injury-free full season. Most scouts don’t doubt Rendon’s ability, but only his ability to stay healthy. John Sickels and Baseball America both ranked Rendon as the top prospect in the Nationals organization coming into 2013, injury concerns and all. In fact, here’s what John Sickels had to say about Rendon before the year started:
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Grade B+: Borderline A-.I really like his bat, but I’m concerned enough about his injury history to be a bit cautious with the grade at this point. I think a healthy Rendon can play second base decently and the bat should play anywhere.
The other thing about Rendon is that he had a really bad July as he adjusted to teams pitching him inside more, but breaking down his wOBA by month shows that he posted a .363 in June, .248 in July, .336 in August and a .333 in September. So for 3 out of 4 months he was elite and one month he was, well, Steve Lombardozzi.
While Lombardozzi is definitely a better defender than Rendon at second base, Rendon wasn’t exactly set up for success by the Nationals who played him almost exclusively at 3B before calling him up. Sure, Rendon made some mistakes, but that’s to be expected from someone learning a new position. This isn’t about defense though and it’s not wOBA, this is about batting average.
Lombardozzi posted a batting average of .259 last year and Rendon posted an average of .265. In old school baseball thought, they’re pretty even. When you factor in Rendon’s walk percentage and overall power (Lombo has less power than Span and slightly more than Gio) it’s really not that close. While it’s funny to question Mike Rizzo’s sobriety or hatred of math (they’re both just jokes) the idea of Lombardozzi competing with Rendon for a starting spot in Spring Training against AA and AAA pitching offers a glimpse into how the Nationals’ front office evaluates players and the outdated methods they’re still using. Who knows, perhaps Lombardozzi has more OPSBI’s than Rendon or something.