I am almost finished with Moneyball, by Michael Lewis of Liar's Poker and The New New Thing fame. It is an excellent read and is useful in thinking about the Washington Nationals front office.
Lewis follows Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As, through a baseball season and examines why he does the things he does. Beane's success has been consistent -- over the last 5 years, the As finished no worse than 2nd in its division and have won its division 2 times. This is despite severe payroll constraints. Beane and company look primarily at statistics to guide their choices. For hitting, Beane values most a player's On Base Percentage (OBP). Beane thinks that a team's success is determined by how many runs it scores and runs are determined by the proficiency in getting on base.
In evaluating the Nationals front office from this viewpoint, some aspects stick out. In 2005, the Nationals scored the least number of runs of any team in Major League Baseball. The Nationals played Cristian Guzman at shortstop all year, even though he had an OBP of .260. In 2005, Ryan Church had the best OBP in the outfield (.353), so what do the Nationals do this year? They send him down to AAA in New Orleans. They are paying Alfonse Soriano $10 million this year, even though he has never cracked a .340 OBP during his career and last year had an OBP of .309.
I enjoy going out to the ballpark, so let's hope that Ryan Zimmerman, a local kid, can make up for these shorcomings by having a stellar rookie season, as he well might.