Too many cooks in the kitchen when you need some Michelin chefs

The Washington Nationals are in an offensive funk, and have dropped five of their last six games going from one-game above .500 to three below. In eight of the team’s last 14 games, they have scored just two-runs or less. All teams have 13 position players on their roster, and the best teams have more than one All-Star in their lineup.

Your average corner restaurant might have a bunch of middling cooks in their kitchen, and the way to take that next step is quality over quantity. Many have a desire for that Michelin star chef. The ones that want to be great strive for it. Finding an Alain Ducasse is like finding a Juan Soto. They are few and far between. Before Ducasse was recognized with Michelin acclaim, he started as an apprentice at the age of 16 at Pavillon Landais, and worked his way up from there much like Soto did in the Dominican Summer League.

Greatness is all part of a process. James Wood was playing rec ball in Olney, Maryland at six years old then made the travel team with the Olney Pirates, long before he played for the St. Johns Cadets in high school in Washington, D.C. at 16 years old, before transferring to the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida. Today, he is the №5 prospect in all of baseball per MLB Pipeline’s new rankings published this week.

Wood, 21, is ready for his MLB debut according to former Nats’ GM, Jim Bowden, “There is no legitimate baseball reason NOT to promote him.” Welllll, the reason is the kitchen is full, Jim. Who leaves to make room for Wood, and who loses playing time? Plus, Lane Thomas should be back from the 10-day IL in about two weeks. Yes, Eddie Rosario in LF, Jacob Young in CF, and Wood in RF makes a lot of sense for Monday against the Twins with Jesse Winker shifting to the DH. But tell us this, if Lane Thomas is ready to return on Friday, May 31, for the series against Cleveland, who leaves then?

Today you have Rosales, Young, Victor Robles, and Winker as your four outfielders. You could add Wood, and maybe it is time to part ways with Robles to make room. But what happens when Thomas is ready to return? That is where the soup gets a little murky to pair with that perfect soufflé. Yes, you need those steam molecules to rise to the top in that soufflé. The process is important to always allow the natural separation to take place. While this isn’t survival of the fittest, it is time for the tough decisions.

None of these near-term decisions are even considering Dylan Crews who is seven months older than Wood. It has not even been a year of pro ball for Crews who was first position player drafted last year at №2 to the Washington Nationals. MLB Pipeline has Crews ranked just two spots after Wood in all of baseball. Yes, Crews plays the outfield also. Too much talent should never be a problem — or if you consider it a problem, it’s a good problem to have. We all have seen the projections of the Nats’ outfield of 2026 with Wood, Crews, and Robert Hassell III. Don’t sell Young short.

“We’re not going to block [top prospects], but if we’re fortunate enough that we have this influx of guys knocking on the big league door, then that’ll be a good day for us here.”

“[Top prospects] tell me when they’re ready by their play on the field. We’ve never had a problem with moving players quickly to the big leagues if they can perform up there — and we’ll have no qualms about putting them there now.”

— general manager Mike Rizzo said just over five months ago at the Winter Meetings

Okay Riz, Wood is knocking on that maple door. The sound of leather getting knocked by maple wood in this case is loud and can be heard audibly with no need for technology to raise the volume. You know it when you hear it.

This Triple-A season for Wood so far has him hitting .346 with a .1042 OPS. In Spring Training, Wood led all of baseball. The only thing Wood has remaining to prove is hitting MLB pitchers consistently.

“We do have some [top prospects] that are coming that I think will supply some power as well. …We’re in a tough situation because we want to get our young guys up here, and we don’t want to take too many spots away from those guys when they’re ready — but yet we got to compete at the big league level.”

— manager Dave Martinez said at the Winter Meetings

Those quotes from Rizzo and Martinez were before Wood dominated in Spring Training yet Rizzo still signed Rosario to a $2 million deal plus a bonus package, in mid-March, to the surprise of many. There were plenty more quotes while Wood was raking in Spring Training to justify sending him down, and maybe Rizzo was erring on the side of caution. But he put too many cooks in the kitchen. And besides one hot week from Rosario, who is batting .179 with a .616 OPS, and two hot weeks from Winker before his back started barking, the power production has been awful by the entire team with a .348 slugging percentage which ranks the team as the third worst in baseball and only 14 points from last. The batting is fourth worst in baseball at .223 and that translates well to why the Nationals are fourth worst in runs scored. Take out the offensive explosion in Miami, and the Nats are dead last in the NL.

So let’s transition to what is working. The only reason the Nats are close to .500 is because of the pitching that has the team in the top-half of baseball. But even last night, defense was a problem. Jake Irvin did not have his best stuff, but he pitched like a bulldog. He pitched well enough to win if his defense was excellent, and his teammates scored him a bunch of runs.

Two plays stick out on defense. In the first inning with two outs, Rosario playing in right field did not get to a ball quick enough in the corner or have a good enough arm to keep the runner at first base from scoring. In the second inning, you once again had the poor defense of Keibert Ruiz on a key play. A wild pitch would lead to two runs scoring.

In the photo on the left, what is going through Ruiz’s mind? There is no physical reaction as he should have been moving his body into a more athletic position. He called for a curveball to be thrown. He knew what was coming and the movement on that pitch. The ball had a velo of only 82.6 mph. Yet he didn’t react until it was too late. That ball was going left-to-right in Ruiz’s perspective, and yet he had not moved as the ball was clearly moving towards his right knee. He lunged at the last split-second and leaned to his right as he tried to forehand the ball with his mitt — obviously awful form — when at the very least, it was a backhand play — and he would have had a chance. IT WAS A CURVEBALL from a right-hander not from a lefty. What was going through Ruiz’s mind? That led to two runs scoring.

In two paragraphs, we showed you two plays that led to three runs in a 4-2 loss. You could say the same about the Phillies’ defense that led to two runs scoring for the Nats. Both Nats’ runs scored on doubles that were within inches of being caught in the outfield. That is baseball. The fact is that the pitcher has eight defenders who must also play on offense. It is this constant chess game of the right moves by the manager and using analytics to create your best configurations.

The defensive metrics have shown for years that the Nationals have the worst defensive catchers. From the mistakes of Luis Garcia Jr. playing shortstop in 2022 to a much improved defense in 2023 — this 2024 team has not improved enough and has given up too many runs (DRS) from poor defense which actually says the Nats’ pitching would probably be even better if they had better defense. Only San Diego is worse than Washington by catcher’s runs lost, but if the Nats believe that Drew Millas is a superior defensive catcher, maybe it is time for some change.

Other teams that Rosario played for knew that he was a good left fielder who should not be playing in right field and certainly not in center field. There are enough analytics that tell you Rosario should be in left field where he is league average, and by the way, he is a -2.0 runs lost in center field. Robles is actually +2.0 in right field and -1.0 run in center field. That is actually a promising statistic on his right field statistics. Young is +4.0 DRS in center field. Why is there any question on positioning in the outfield?

Anyway, the key is always the right balance. By doing that, you give your team the best chance to win.

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