The Nationals' Incredible Shrinking Offense

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | , , , , | 7 comments »

At the beginning of the season, if you had asked a baseball fan what the Washington Nationals' biggest problem was going to be for the 2010 season, you would have gotten several suggestions:  starting pitching, the bullpen, the defense. 

They are all logical answers because the Nats were deficient in all those categories last season, and to a point questions remain regarding each still to this day.

But last on the list would have been offense.  There weren't too many folks complaining about the offense.  Why would they?

Ryan Zimmerman was coming off his best season to date.  Adam Dunn hit another 38 home runs and was on base near 40% of his plate appearances.  Josh Willingham was solid once he was inserted into the lineup on a daily basis.  Nyjer Morgan was a terror on the basepaths and hit .350 as a Nat.

But something happened on the way to the forum.

Despite occasional outbursts, the 2010 Nationals have not been a particularly good offensive team.

They are middle of the pack in most offensive categories, with a combined .261/.334/.422 line.  That ranks them 7/8/7 in the 16 team National League.  But they rank 11th in runs scored, which is the bottom line.

They are third in the NL in stolen bases, but lead the league in caught stealing.  A 64% success rate ain't gonna cut it.

The main culprit there, of course, is Nyjer Morgan.

When he came to the Nats last season, he was Superman.  The 48 game stretch he put on from the time of the trade--until he was injured trying to steal third against the Cubs--was simply incredible.  He became the face of the Jim Riggleman Nationals, getting on base, stealing almost at whim, and flopping around the outfield in stadiums from coast-to-coast.  He became an instant fan favorite.

In 212 plate appearances, Morgan hit .351/.396/.435 with 24 steals (and seven caught stealing), and he played an excellent center field.  The Nats had found the answer to one of the franchise's biggest questions.

But did they really?

This season, Morgan has reverted back closer to his career line.  In his four year MLB career, Morgan is a .297/.359/.390 hitter.  He steals bases at a 66% clip (66-of-99 career).  This season, his line is .266/.344/.385.  Not terrible.  But he's been caught stealing on half of his attempts.  That IS terrible.

If you take the eight caught stealings out of his on base percentage--might as well since he's being removed from the bases--it drops to .293.  That's sub-Guzmanian.

And Morgan's dirty little secret?  He can't hit lefties a lick.  Not even half a lick.

For his career, Morgan's line against left-handed pitching is .196/.303/.291.  This season:  .188/.304/.313, right in line with his career.

For all intent and purposes, when Morgan is in the lineup against a left-handed pitcher, the Nats are batting two pitchers in a row, in the ninth and first slots in the order. 

Two of the three batters immediately preceeding the team's best hitter--Ryan Zimmerman--are automatic outs against lefties.

Lest you think this is a trivial or minor problem, a full third of Morgan's plate appearances (56 out of 162) this season are against a left-handed pitcher.

It's a good thing the Nats have a perfect platoon partner for Morgan.  A fine defensive center fielder with a lifetime major league OBP against lefties of .410 (granted, in 78 appearances) and a lifetime minor league overall OBP of .353.

The other problem is the sixth spot in the order.  It has predominantly been filled by Ivan Rodriguez (19 out of 39 games).  The first two weeks of the season, Pudge was great, hitting .434/.456/.566.  Since?  .246/.267/.333.  In the past 20 games, hitting primarily in the sixth spot in the order, Pudge has had three extra base hits and walked once.

That's a big problem too.  Pudge's last three weeks look an awful lot like his overall line last season (.245/.279/.388) split between Houston and Texas.

So continue to fret over the starters not picthing deep enough into games.  Worry about the bullpen either underachieving or being overused.  Continue to be concerned about the defense.

But add hitting to the list of concerns, especially from the first and sixth spots in the order.


  1. Nervous Nats Fan // May 18, 2010 at 3:44 PM  

    You don't even mention the number of double plays Pudge has hit into. When I last checked, he was leading the league.

  2. Dave Nichols // May 18, 2010 at 3:49 PM  

    yup. i didn't look into that, but you're right.

  3. Tigerlily7 // May 18, 2010 at 4:44 PM  

    Did you really think Pudge could maintain that torrid pace for the whole season? He is a contact hitter if he is hitting into double-plays he is standing there watching a called third strike or striking out. He is sometimes a streaky hitter, but doesn't fall into a slump for long.

  4. Tigerlily7 // May 18, 2010 at 4:46 PM  

    Oops! not standing there watching a called third strike....

  5. Dave Nichols // May 18, 2010 at 4:49 PM  

    Tigerlily, i certainly did not expect Pudge to maintain his early success, in fact, i've been pessimistic about his offensive production from the day he signed. he didn't OBP .280 last season, and I expect at the end of the year his OBP will be around .300 again.

  6. Jenn Jenson // May 18, 2010 at 5:44 PM  

    Appreciate the Nyjer analysis in particular. I'm not a fan, but it's mostly an emotional reaction to baserunning blunders and a different type of self-indulgence than we saw with the last center fielder. Pudge, on the other hand, is still okay in my book, even if his hitting has cooled off dramatically.

  7. Anonymous // May 18, 2010 at 6:04 PM  

    I have a feeling that Morgan has peaked. His base running, fielding, throwing to the wrong bases, and erratic throwing is troubling.

    I don't see him around here next year.