Who is worse: 2010 Nyjer Morgan or 2007 Nook Logan?
Comparing Nyjer to Nook would probably send most Nats fans into apoplexy. Nyjer must be worlds better than Nook Fucking Logan, right? From his inability to hit to the Family Circus Dotted Line routes he took to fly balls to his bad baserunning, Nook Logan was a terrible baseball player. Nook even gave good ol' IHOP-loving Charlie Slowes fits:
This is all true. 2007 Nook Logan was a terrible baseball player. But 2010 Nyjer Morgan has been even more terrible.
(Small cheat: Nook had a terrible first half and a better second half in 2007. It's difficult to compare partial seasons. For this blog post, I'm assuming that Nyjer's not going to improve very much this season. This might be an unrealistic assumption, but I've never been that high on Our Washington Nationals' 30-year-old late-blooming few-major-league-at-batting hockey-attituding aggressive CF wonder. ZiPS is projecting only a marginal offensive improvement for Nyjer for the remainder of the season. MASN's Ben Goessling has a good overview of Nyjer's 2010 season to date, and he thinks improvement is inevitable.)
2007 Nook put up an execrable .265/.304/.345 to 2010 Nyjer's merely contemptible .255/.341/.366. The real difference between the two is their walk rates. Nyjer knows how to take a walk (9.7% walk percentage) and Nook didn't (5.4% walk percentage).
(Fun fact: This season, Nyjer is seeing slightly fewer pitches in the strike zone, swinging at slightly more of those pitches, and making slightly less contact on them compared to previous seasons.)
Winner: 2010 Nyjer
My recollection now, which doesn't diverge too much from the impressions of fans then, is that Nook was a bad fielder. But UZR tells me that what I remember as Nook running around in circles saved 3.6 runs more than the average center fielder. Baseball Info Solutions' Plus/Minus measurement says Nook saved eight runs more than the average center fielder in 2007.
The story of Nyjer's 2010 in the field so far is best summarized with a single image from last Wednesday's game:
2010 Nyjer defensively: -4.4 UZR, -6 Plus/Minus.Maybe he should be a little less aggressive? The unnecessary leaps and inability to distinguish when to try to catch the ball and when to play the carom off the wall are beginning to remind me a little bit of 2006 Alfonso Soriano.
Winner: 2007 Nook
This is where Nyjer is really killing the Nats. Start with comparing Nook's 82% stolen base percentage to Nyjer's 50%. A finer comparison is more illuminating. Nook had 350 PA in 2007. Nook was picked off three times, was put out in non-pickoff baserunning situations twice, and took an extra base as a baserunner 41% of the time. In exactly half as many PA as Nook, Nyjer already has three pickoffs and two non-pickoff baserunning putouts. Nyjer, however, has taken the extra base 62% of the time.
According to Baseball Prospectus, not only is Nyjer a bad baserunner, he's the worst baserunner on the worst baserunning team in the major leagues. Measured in runs, Nyjer's exploits on the basepaths have cost the Nationals 2.4 runs. In comparison, crappy 2007 Nook, who always seemed to run into outs, was worth 1.7 runs as a baserunner.
Winner: 2007 Nook
2007 Nook sucked, but it wasn't a big deal because the whole team sucked. Fans of a team coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons might envy the 2007 squad's 73-89 record, but a team that employed ace Matt Chico (31 GS!), groovin' Mike Bacsik, Tim Redding, and Felipe Lopez (DIE FLop, DIE) could afford to carry Nook Logan because it was never going anywhere anyway. The 2007 Nationals may have been built (thrown together? picked from the bottom of the used underwear bin at Kohl's?) to satisfy Ted Lerner's frugality or Jim Bowden's tool fetishes, but one thing that team surely wasn't built to do was succeed.
In 2007, Nook split time in center field with Ryan Langerhans and other assorted flotsam, rarely batting higher than eighth. From the first day of spring training, Nook was a "whaddya gonna do" afterthought. Bowden traded for Chris Snelling, and later Langerhans, because he was aware that Nook wasn't the answer to the team's center field woes. In contrast, Nyjer is quite important to the success of the 2010 Nationals. The current team is built under the assumption that Nyjer will play a plus center field every day and bat leadoff all season. The 2010 Nationals do not work if Nyjer fails to field his position well, doesn't get on base, or creates negative outcomes on the basepaths. However you define success for the 2010 Nationals, they need a productive Nyjer in order to achieve that success.
2010 Nyjer is worse than 2007 Nook not because the numbers are worse, but because the expectations are higher.
Nook finished 2007 with a WAR of 0.8. Nyjer has sunk to slightly below replacement level, with a current in-season WAR of -0.1. I expect Nyjer to have a positive WAR by the end of the season, but nothing close to the 4.9 WAR he posted in 2009. (How improbable was Nyjer's 2009? He put up 3.0 of his 4.9 WAR just in the 49 games he played with the Nationals. That's what a .398 BABIP will do.) And he'll never be as valuable as Adam Dunn.