Nyjer Morgan’s Defensive Brilliance

I didn’t really know who Nyjer Morgan was before this season.  The speedy 29 year-old outfielder spent a long time in the minors, but was finally given a full-time job by the Pirates this year before being traded to the Nationals. The reason I’m taking note of Morgan now, despite him being out for the rest of the season with an injury, is that Nyjer has been the best defensive player in baseball this year, regardless of position  I took a look at how good over at MLB Notebook.  An excerpt’s below; click through for the full version.

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“By Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Morgan is the best defender at any position in baseball this year, at 27.8 runs above average.  That’s almost 3 full wins just with his glove! He’s in Andruw Jones in his prime territory*. After displayer excellent range last year as well, he’s added to his defensive arsenal with 13 outfield assists.  Now that he’s finally been given a full-time chance to play at the age of 29, Morgan is showing that he can really contribute to a ball club even if he had a poor bat…

Nyjer hasn’t been a hole in the line-up this year though, posting a solid .307/.369/.388 line.  It’s light on power – just 3 home runs – but an average fueled by a low strike-outs rate and a .360 batting average on balls in play plus a decent walk rate resulted in an above-average OBP. As a bonus, he’s also stolen 42 bases with a 71% success rate. Put it all together and you’ve got a mark of 4.9 Wins Above Replacement – that ranks 16th in the majors between stars Matt Holliday and Dustin Pedroia. Not bad for a guy most people hadn’t heard of going into this season.

This may be a career year for him, since it’s hard to expect such a high BABIP to continue (though it was .367 last year and .356 the year before that, both in limited time) and one would expect his defensive numbers to regress some. In any case, Morgan should most certainly win a Gold Glove for 2009*. The next closest NL outfielder in UZR is Randy Winn with +14.3 runs (which is about half of Nyjer’s mark). And if the Nationals run him out there all of 2010 (and he stays healthy), then I think he’s an early favorite for one next year.”