A shift back to centerfield for Bryce Harper could boost the Washington Nationals defense to the top. Is it enough to advance in the playoffs?
The Washington Nationals will have a brand-new outfield in 2017.
As Trea Turner transitions to his native shortstop, Adam Eaton will take his spot in centerfield. Or, so we think. As the Nats prepare for what they hope is a championship season, do not be surprised if Eaton starts the year in right field and Bryce Harper shifts over to center. Jayson Werth will be the everyday left fielder.
Eaton, primarily a centerfielder his first two seasons with the Chicago White Sox shifted to right last season and had a tremendously productive season. He led the American League with 15 assists and recorded 296 outs. A total good enough for fourth in the league.
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If you are a believer in defensive Wins Above Replacement, Eaton’s 1.8 in the field last season won the ChiSox two games and is a four WAR improvement above his -1.1 score in center from 2015. How solid is that? He saved 25 runs over an average AL right fielder. A league best. So was his 2.86 range factor over nine innings.
Now, Harper saved roughly eight from his perch in right in 2016. His five assists and lone double play are solid numbers. Yet, his defensive WAR of -1.0 is poor. You can blame the bum shoulder, or a misunderstood statistic, for his numbers, but he had an average year in the field. Still, he saved roughly eight runs over an ordinary right fielder.
As a centerfielder, Harper can hold more than his own. Although playing the bulk of the position his rookie season of 2012, his speed and range over 121 games saved 10 runs. His range factor of 2.55-per-9 tops the National League mark of 2.48. If pressed to play center, he can do the job well.
The temptation is to keep the pair as is. Eaton in center with Harper in right. They have the most experience there and, as Eaton settles into a new league, keeping people within their comfort levels yields good results.
With Washington firmly trying to win now, shifting the pair defensively as they mesh at the plate may be the missing piece to shove the Nationals along in the playoffs.