The Nats just signed Rick Ankiel, which adds some depth at the very least to the outfield. It also adds a significant amount of confusion. While he remains a great story of baseball redemption, Ankiel comes to the team with only a season and a half strong hitting under his belt. Since the end of 2008, he hasn’t been that great of a hitter, which is troubling for a starting left fielder.
If you are thinking of Rick Ankiel of a few years ago, remember the power that he possess. But he is probably not the 25 HR/.843 OPS guy he was in 2008. Over 404 PAs in 2009, he only hit .231/.285/.387, completely unplayable, especially in a corner outfield spot. In 2010, he was at least able to take some walks, hitting .232/.321/.389 in 240 PAs. In other words, he hasn’t hit in two years. So to think that the Nats just signed their LFer for next season would certainly be premature.
The positive that Ankiel does bring is his relatively ability to hit right handed pitchers. He’s a lefty, and even if he doesn’t start, that’s a good thing to have on the bench. Especially one with some power. His career OPS against RHP is .785, as opposed to only .668 against LHP. Even in his strong 2007-2008 season and a half, he was significantly better versus righties. So even if things don’t work out with him as a starter, he could add some real value.
This situation leaves some interesting options. As you may know, Mike Morse is a righty that likes to hit lefties. He is a strong candidate to platoon. Morse could start against lefties, Ankiel against righties. This would give them somewhat of an effective LF hitter, assuming Ankiel can still hit righties. Last year he had ~74% of his PAs against righties, and amassed a not too shabby .801 OPS, compared to his .452 OPS against lefties. But geez, Mike Morse would really have to be ready to go in any time a LHP appears.
Meanwhile, Roger Bernadina is a lefty that hasn’t hit anyone great, but hasn’t shown significant splits. In spring training, it’s assumed that Bernadina would have a chance to win the job. Perhaps Morse would, too. Both of them are relatively young, and could show improvement that was meaningful.
I’d be surprised, though, if a month of spring training would allow Riggleman to invalidate years of evidence that Ankiel simply stinks against left handed pitching. So if you see Ankiel raking in the spring, pay attention to who it’s against. If it’s righties, you know he might be part of an effective platoon. If it’s against lefties, we can all dream, but we should pay attention to the reality of the last 4 seasons.