Stevenson struggles as regular, but thrives off the bench

PLAYER REVIEW: ANDREW STEVENSON

Age on opening day 2022: 27

How acquired: Second-round pick, 2015 draft

MLB service time: 2 years, 127 days

2021 salary: $579,100

Contract status: Possibly arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2026

2021 stats: 109 G, 213 PA, 192 AB, 22 R, 44 H, 6 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 1 CS, 13 BB, 61 SO, .229 AVG, .294 OBP, .339 SLG, .632 OPS, 74 OPS+, 1 DRS, minus-0.1 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR

Quotable: “I try to just mellow out. The bigger spots, the way I kind of look at it is: The pitcher’s in more of a jam than I am, for the most part. In that situation, it’s to my advantage. So I shouldn’t be the one feeling the pressure here. It should be on the pitcher. That’s something that’s helped me.” - Andrew Stevenson, on pinch-hitting

Thumbnail image for Stevenson-Homers-Blue-v-PHI-sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: Penciled in all along as the Nationals’ fourth outfielder, Andrew Stevenson opened the season in the starting lineup due to the club’s COVID-19 outbreak but soon after settled into his expected bench role. There would be occasional starts at any one of the three outfield positions when someone needed a day off, but more than anything there would be opportunities to come off the bench for big spots late in games.

For the third straight year, Stevenson excelled at that. He batted an impressive .319 as a pinch-hitter, his 15 hits ranking second in the majors out of that role. And he again proved to be a far more productive hitter off the bench than as a starter. When in the lineup, he batted a scant .184/.248/.256 with one homer in 136 plate appearances. That was a stark contrast to his .794 OPS and four homers in only 49 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter.

The Nationals did give Stevenson a look as their semi-regular center fielder during the summer when Victor Robles was struggling, but he couldn’t seize the opportunity. He actually wound up getting optioned to Triple-A twice, though in each case he was recalled from Rochester within 10 days.

2022 outlook: At this stage of his career, we pretty much know what Stevenson is. He’s legitimately one of the best pinch-hitters in baseball, with a .368 batting average that is tops among all major leaguers with at least 50 plate appearances off the bench. It’s a valuable skill to have, and when combined with his strong baserunning and defensive abilities at all three positions, it makes him an ideal backup outfielder on just about any team.

But at this point, it’s probably safe to say Stevenson isn’t going to make it as an everyday player. For whatever reason, he seems to get exposed the more he plays, and his production when in the lineup isn’t good enough to merit sustained opportunities.

The question is whether the Nationals want to continue keeping Stevenson (who should see a salary bump next season, assuming he qualifies for arbitration as a “Super Two” player) as a backup. Their bench could be clogged up with outfielders, especially with Yadiel Hernandez as another left-handed hitter alongside him. The Nats did keep both Stevenson and Hernandez on the roster together at times this season, but that’s not ideal roster construction if they proceed with the same arrangement in 2022.

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