Measuring the Nationals’ progress in right field

The Nationals’ decision to cut Elijah Dukes in spring training was predicated largely on the belief that the team could get more production out of its remaining right fielders than it could from Dukes, who was struggling to hit curveballs and remaining an uncomfortable presence in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

But at the end of the year, the experiment actually seems to have worked.

In 162 games, the team got 26 homers and 86 RBI from its right fielders, though the group hit .248 and had a so-so .767 OPS (thanks largely to a .327 on-base percentage).

But Dukes had a .729 OPS in 2009, and a .771 mark for his career. And Dukes’ UZR in 2009 was 8.3 runs below replacement. The Nationals’ group in 2010 was 11.1 runs below replacement.

Offensively, the group put up better power numbers than Dukes had done, didn’t get on base quite as much, and fielded a little worse. But the production wasn’t markedly worse, and for the Nationals, that made it worth relieving themselves of Dukes-related headaches.

But the team still didn’t have anything resembling continuity; the Nationals’ right fielders played in a combined 245 games, more than any other group in the National League. Some of those games, obviously, were at other positions (like when Roger Bernadina or Willie Harris played left field), but it speaks to the piecemeal nature of the Nationals’ right field composition. It’s why the team could take a run at an everyday player like the Phillies’ Jayson Werth this offseason.

When the decision this year, though, was to see if they could get enough production from their holdovers to make Dukes expendable. And they did enough to pull that off.