Though Michael Taylor has been hanging around the roster for years, 2018 was his first real chance at the center field starting job after the organization continually passed him over for Denard Span, Ben Revere, Eaton, and Turner.
In 2017, Taylor broke out after Eaton’s injury with a career-best .271/.320/.486 slash line, 19 home runs, and 17 steals in 118 games around his own injury. This year though, he has cratered and posted a .560 OPS, good for 156th out of 164 qualified batters.
He won’t hit as poorly as he has in 2018, but Taylor’s 2017 numbers were buoyed by a largely unsustainable .363 BABIP.
The middle ground looks a lot like his 2015-16 numbers, when he totaled a sub-par .645 OPS in 748 plate appearances. With the center-fielder’s quality defense, a below-average bat is still playable sandwiched between the bats of Harper and Eaton.
But in a very reasonable 2019 world where Harper is in pinstripes and Eaton is once again on the DL, Taylor cannot be expected to carry an entire outfield offensively.
There are reasons to stick with Taylor as something of an outfield centerpiece. He is a fantastic defender, and ranks 7th among 54 qualified outfielders in defensive runs saved since the start of 2017. He has legitimate speed, and if the Nationals move on from Harper and Murphy this winter, Davey Martinez could toss out a more speed-focused lineup.
And while it seems unsustainable, Taylor’s 2017 season did happen, so his success isn’t purely theoretical. Just last October, he did this in Game 4 off Wade Davis and this in Game 5 off Kyle Hendricks. It’s hard to give up on a 27 year old who is under contract through 2020 when he can do that.
Taylor’s 2018 numbers will be suppressed by his dreadful start, but if he is reverts to something close to his 2017 performance for the final four months, Rizzo can feel a little more comfortable losing Harper. An outfield group with Eaton, Taylor, Robles, and Soto is certainly capable.
But should he slip up, Soto and Robles are already chomping at the bit. The Nationals current lack of outfield depth has kept Taylor in his starting role this season, but things can always change in a hurry.