- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

Quick, who has been the Washington Nationals’ MVP in 2009? Ryan Zimmerman? Adam Dunn? John Lannan?

While there are certainly arguments to be made for any of those guys, there might actually be a stronger case for a position player who was with the team for only 51 games this season. Yes, Nyjer Morgan. Plain and simple, the Nationals were a much better team with Morgan and have been much worse without him.

Here’s the statistical evidence:

In 77 games before Morgan was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington’s offense scored an average of 4.32 runs a game and struggled to a 23-54 record (a .299 winning percentage).

In 51 games with Morgan, Washington increased its offensive production to 5.03 runs a game, corresponding to a 23-28 record (a .451 winning percentage).

And in 27 games since Morgan broke a bone in his left hand, ending his season, Washington’s lineup has gone limp, averaging 3.18 runs while the team has gone an abysmal 6-21 (a .222 winning percentage).

The drop-off in production is astounding, which begs the question: Has Morgan’s absence really been so devastating?

“I hear that a lot from everybody, and I don’t want to give in to that,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “But I also want to pay Nyjer his respect. Nyjer was a great catalyst for this ballclub, and certainly we miss him.”

Riggleman has the right take on the matter. Acknowledge the difference Morgan made but don’t give the rest of the lineup a free pass.

The Nationals would be wise to take the same line of thinking into the offseason.

There has been some belief around the organization that significant changes aren’t necessary to a lineup that has been the least of the club’s worries this year. And indeed Washington has ranked in the middle-to-upper portion of the National League in most offensive categories this season.

But that doesn’t mean this unit is flawless.

Zimmerman and Dunn have become one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in baseball, but the man who bats behind them has been wildly inconsistent. Only one month ago, Josh Willingham was staring a career year in the face, with a .301 average, 21 homers and a .986 OPS that ranked among the top 10 in the league. He has collapsed since then, batting less than .150 over the past month with a .507 OPS that rivals the lowest in the majors. Just like that, Willingham is no longer looking at a career year but rather a very typical year in his career: about 25 homers, about 70 RBI and an average in the .260s.

Elijah Dukes remains something of an enigma; he’s hit .271 with 27 RBI since his Aug. 1 return from the minors, but he’s hit only two homers in that time and only eight for the season.

Cristian Guzman is as weak a .286 hitter as there is in baseball. And the Nationals haven’t been able to make up offensively for the losses of Nick Johnson and Ronnie Belliard. And there’s no guarantee Jesus Flores will return 100 percent healthy for the start of next season.

Story Continues →