Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Predicament Moving Forward

Our Washington Nationals could have scored here, they could have scored there. Against The Philadelphia Phillies last night at Citizens Bank Park, they could have scored in most every inning. When you rap out 10 hits, reach baserunners safely for nine straight frames, have Roy Halladay on the ropes more than once and shutdown a potent opposing offense in a bandbox park--you need to win that game.

You really do.

Playing in arguably the most difficult stadium in America to visit, D.C.'s Team had multiple chances to defeat Philly and their fans last evening in South Philadelphia. Washington lost 1-0 to their most heated rival and all we could think about when the game finally ended--was the footwork of Adam Dunn playing 1st Base.

Really, it's perplexing watching him man the bag at times.

There is no question the effort is there every single night by Our Number 44. He's putting is best out there on the field. But it's also mindboggling to witness what appears to be routine plays, hit baseballs, or tosses thrown his way by his fellow infielders--that get past him--including the eventual game winning rbi last night. The predicament of Adam Dunn playing 1st base in the future for Our Washington Nationals came into play last evening at Citizens Bank Park. The very man with the powerful bat that can sock the ball out of the park with the best in the game. The same Adam Dunn that can clearly tally up some serious runs batted in offensively.

He's that dangerous.

But at times defensively, he's still lost at 1st Base.

Here's what happened last night:

After Jason Marquis walked both Chase Utley and Jayson Werth with two outs in the bottom of the 3rd inning, Raul Ibanez sliced a hard hit ground ball between the 1st base bag and Dunn--who was playing a little off the line.

Hard hit? Yes.

Playable? Seemingly so.

The baseball glanced off Adam Dunn's glove and proceeded down the right field line, scoring Utley with what proved to be the game winning run. An excellent fielder would have most likely stopped that ball, at least kept it in the infield, knocking the baseball down. Our Number 44 couldn't reach it and the outcome proved costly.

Much like another error officially given Ian Desmond one inning later on a routine ground ball hit my Philadelphia's Mike Sweeney. Desmond picked up the grounder and threw the baseball slightly high to first base. Most players familiar with playing the position would straddle the 1st base bag until Ian let go of the baseball. Getting the feel of the bag is important in the gaining of comfort playing the position. There needs to be an ease from the position player. The 1st baseman has to react accordingly to the actual direction of the throw to retrieve it, not from where he thinks it's coming.

And that's the difference with Adam manning 1st base.

Desmond's throw was certainly off the mark (mistake number 1), but Adam Dunn had already stretched toward Ian's position--BEFORE THE TOSS WAS MADE.

Big Mistake Number 2.

So when the ball came high--Dunn couldn't compensate for the bad throw and, more importantly, he couldn't adjust his footwork to make the catch. He was out of position by stretching too soon. There was no way for Adam to lift himself into the air and record the out.

That's a problem that needs to be addressed.

In fact, this is the very predicament moving forward Our Washington Nationals find themselves in these days when it comes to re-signing Adam Dunn to a longer term contract. The determination needs to be made by Baseball Management whether Adam's bat outweighs his defensive capabilities. On a good team, with few defensive shortcomings, you can hide a weaker glove in the field--especially at 1st. Many teams have succeeded in shadowing their weak link there while still winning for years. Poor teams can't do that on a regular basis. The flaw gets magnified, as was seen last night at Citizens Bank Park.

In 2010, Adam Dunn has manned first base better than anyone expected after so many watched his shaky play for Washington in 2009--in the wake of Nick Johnson being traded. Dunn's light years away from his defensive performances last season. Yet, he should be capable of much better. He's played enough games there now to be more comfortable around the bag. His footwork needs to improve if Adam Dunn wants to continue playing 1st base on a regular basis in The National League. It's necessary for him to become a better all around player.

Final Score from Citizens Bank Park where D.C.'s Team had every chance to win in that hostile ballpark and didn't: The Philadelphia Phillies 1 and Our Washington Nationals Zero. Let's be clear, Loss Number 70 of 2010 was not Adam Dunn's fault. There were ample opportunities from just about every single person in Jim Riggleman's lineup (including Roger Bernadina grounding into two key outs with runners in scoring position). But Dunn's defensive shortcomings at 1st base needs to be recognized for what they are--a predicament that needs to be addressed in the team's future. If Washington does re-sign him to a longer term contract, Baseball Management needs to understand what's in store at 1st Base.

Most likely, Adam Dunn's never going to be a Gold Glove winning fielder and, moving forward, Our Washington Nationals need to figure out whether that's a predicament they can live with or not.

Tonight's In-Game Photos Matt Rourke (AP)


Positively Half St. said...

This must be the only reason they have not signed him. It is the kind of move that would allow the Nats to either sign a better first baseman with power, or to resign Dunn cheaper once it is clear that others are also afraid of his defense.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Positively Half St: The question then becomes: who is better? If anyone? Carlos Pena is a better fielder, but two years older and having a down year for the Rays. Prince Fielder of Milwaukee is way too large and liable to break down at any time. It's a double edge sword that needs to be decided by Rizzo and his staff.

Anonymous said...

Its still about time ... and if we risk assuming that MIke Rizzo would prefer another 2 year contract instead of 3? It becomes one of who will be ready then? They could have more than one potential candidate at first base at that point. But 3 years, 4 years? That could be detrimental to the team.

After last night one wonders if Mike Rizzo might consider moving Dunn into left field. He might actually be safer there than at the first base bag. Fewer grounders to manage ... no throws.

paul said...

Hmmm, I can think of another reason not to sign him, which is that he is, relatively speaking, a bad clutch hitter. I am sure someone can do the research and take, say, Ryan Howard's clutch AB's and project how many RBI's Dunn would have with Howard's AB's. I think this is a bigger issue than his defense.

Having said that, he is a lot more valuable than I expected he'd be. In LF he was embarrassingly bad, and I never wavered from my opinion that he was a Matt Stairs-like PH at best (except I now know he doesn't hit well in the clutch). But at 1B, and like SBF said, with no one else in the pipeline, he is a good LH sandwich between Zimmerman and Willingham.

I have kind of a global theory regarding players like Dunn, and Guzman, and throw in Jose Vidro. And that is when you have rooted for a mediocre (or no) team for so long, that an average player can actually look really good. I suspect native DC baseball fans (I grew up in NY, then was an Orioles fan during the Ripken years) may tend to overrate players they have, thinking they are better than they are. What's the title of that book? "Been Down So Long Looks Like Up to Me"

Laurie said...

He's worth it when his bat is working...which has not been recently. He has improved at first base, but sometimes he just watches the balls go by him, instead of getting dirty to make sure they dont get by. IDK...its bitter and sweet all rolled into one.

An Briosca Mor said...

Dunn is currently leading the league in homers, among the leaders in SLG and OBP, and hit forty or more homers in a season five years in a row, and 38 last year. Average players don't do that. Despite his defensive shortcomings, Dunn is way more than an average player.