Cold, Hard Facts About the Offense

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, April 25, 2011 | , , | 11 comments »

The Washington Nationals currently sit in third place in the National League East, four and a half games behind the Philadelphia Phillies with a .500 record of 10-10 after 20 games, roughly one-eighth of the season.  Their Pythagorean W-L (based on run differential) is 9-11, so on that hand the Nats' record isn't really an aberration.

Or is it?

The Nats have heavily loaded their wins with runs.  Naturally, one would assume that a team would score more runs in a win than a loss.  But the Nats are taking this to an extreme.  They've scored five or more runs in a game nine times this season, including Sunday's 6-3 over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In those nine games the team is a perfect 9-0.

But in games the Nats have scored fewer than five runs, they are a paltry 1-10.  That's right.  Only once this season have the Nats won scoring fewer than five runs, a 4-3 10-inning win over Milwaukee.  That speaks to the ineffectiveness of both the hitting and the pitching.

Just how bad is that?  In four of the Nats 10 losses, the opposition has scored fewer than four runs and in two more losses the other team scored five.  So more than half the Nats' losses have come when the opposition has scored five or fewer runs.

To compare, the San Diego Padres, the lowest scoring team in the majors, earned five of their eight victories scoring five or fewer runs.

Essentially, the idea of the Nats starters "keeping their team in the game" has been meaningless thus far.  The Nats have either won with an offensive explosion (by their measure) of they've lost.  They haven't had any in-between.  They aren't winning low scoring games and they aren't winning close games because they just aren't in many (1-2 in one run games).

Shall we examine the individuals?

Of the starting players (position players that have garnered the most at bats at their position), the Nationals have exactly two players hitting higher than .260: rookie 2B Danny Espinosa (.281/.364/.484) and Ryan Zimmerman, who hasn't played in almost three weeks and currently has no timetable for return.

The outfield of Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse is hitting .220 with five home runs combined.  I went through Werth's troubles here, and his proclivity for hitting ground ball outs this year is alarming.  In Sunday's win he grounded out four more times and struck out in his last at bat.  Again, alarming.

But the other two are playing at very predictable levels, if you paid attention to pre-season analytical projections instead of anecdotal evidence from spring training.

In fact, the only hitter you can really state is slumping, with any confidence, is Adam LaRoche, who is one of the most consistent players in the game.  LaRoche is traditionally a slow starter though, with a career .213/.308/.394 in April.

But then, his partially torn rotator cuff may be giving him more problems than he -- or the team -- is letting on.  That's not an injury that heals itself, and any loss of joint stability could be affecting his strength, whether or not the player feels pain in his swing.

The most troublesome slow start belongs to Ian Desmond.  He's supposed to be part of The Plan v2.0.  He looks as lost at the plate right now as he ever has, reaching base just 20 times in 79 plate appearances (.253 OBP).  In fact, he's struck out as many times as he's reached base.  That's just not acceptable for a non-power hitter.

The rest?  They are what they are at this point in their careers.

What can the Nats do to score more runs?

Hope Ryan Zimmerman returns sooner than later.  Hope Jayson Werth figures out what's wrong with his swing and stops grounding out.  Hope something clicks with Ian Desmond.  Hope Adam LaRoche is going through his usual April swoon and not that his swing is being sapped by injury.

That's a lot of things to hope for.

11 comments

  1. Sharkadina // April 25, 2011 at 4:02 PM  

    The Shark had 2 more stolen bases today to make it 5 on the season. I'm just saying, Bernadina is better than a spark plug, he's a shark plug.

  2. Dave Nichols // April 25, 2011 at 4:05 PM  

    thanks Sharky. keep beating the drum...

  3. Section 222 // April 25, 2011 at 4:51 PM  

    Excellent post Dave. I especially appreciate the dismantling of conventional wisdom -- in this case that the Nats' starting pitching is keeping them in the game.

    I guess all we can do is keep hope alive. Werth, LaRoche and Morse can't stay this cold all year long, can they? Can they?

    Of course, we'd all be ecstatic if the Nats finish the season in third place at .500, right?

  4. Dave Nichols // April 25, 2011 at 5:04 PM  

    222: thanks for the kind words.

    yes, i think all of NatsTown would be ecstatic if the Nats finish at .500. but you can't do that hitting .226/.307/.347 as they currently are.

  5. Sec314 // April 25, 2011 at 6:04 PM  

    On every board and blog I could find I have been beating the "Nats need hitters" drum for over a year. The off season focus on a front line pitcher was misguided, in my opinion. The pitching last year was not great, but the number of games they lost after only scoring 0-2 runs was well into the double digits. They lost more often for lack of runs than lack of pitching. Strasburg was victimized by this, as was Livo-- repeatedly.

    Maybe Carl Cameron would never have considered Washington, but until they get someone of his caliber in the outfield and the lineup, the Nats aren't moving forward.

  6. Dave Nichols // April 25, 2011 at 8:45 PM  

    Sec314: thanks for the comment. you probably mean Carl Crawford, but your point is well taken.

    Rizzo convinced the Lerners Werth was his guy and HE was supposed to be their offensive answer. he has planty of time to find himself, and he and the team are very fortunate that they haven't lost more games than they have while Werth -- and the entire team -- struggle offensively.

  7. Anonymous // April 25, 2011 at 11:46 PM  

    Actually, Sharkadina, Syracuse's best offensive player is now on the big club: in the form of one Brian Bixler. "The Shark" and most of the rest of the Syracuse offense are almost an amazing mirror image of the Nats right now!!!! Much of the power has been generated by Seth Bynum ... not Jeff Frazier, Marerro, or Bernadina. In fact Bynum hit a home run today in their 2-1 loss to the SWB Yankees. I suspect Bynum would have to be considered next as a potential offensive bench player.

    The pitching has been used almost in 'lock-step' with Riggleman's use of the Nats rotation and relievers. The starters have been consistently going deeper into games with few walks (with the clear and obvious exception of one Garrett Mock). The relievers, including Henry Rodriguez, have been used similarly to the current Nats bullpen. And they are likely why Syracuse is 5-7 instead of 0-12.

  8. Anonymous // April 25, 2011 at 11:50 PM  

    By the way: Crawford is definitely NOT hitting either!! But Corey Patterson is? And then there's Sam Fuld with Tampa Bay ...

    In any case, Werth is the better player, but older, than is Crawford. You can see that in his attitude, his play ... if the choice were between those two I think Rizzo picked wisely ...

    Now, a certain writer named Tom Boswell is still very, very piqued that Adam LaRoche supplanted Adam Dunn. He still believes the Nats will rue the day over the long-term. Let's hope some power hitting bats with the requisite speed rise up from the minors before that day.

  9. Sec314 // April 26, 2011 at 11:25 AM  

    Um... yes, I did. Have to stop paying attention to work when I should be thinking about baseball...

  10. Maddy // April 26, 2011 at 11:35 AM  

    Anon@11:46, we all know your Peric because you make the exact same points on every blog in the Natmoshpere.

    Sec314, Pitching has been a pleasant surprise so far, but a front-line starter would not have hurt. I think there offense is underachieving. I just don't see how much longer they can win with Livo as their ace. Hopefully J-Zimm keeps it up, him and Stras could be a dynamic duo, but I think they still need more help.

    Dave, looks like your "easily to disappoint" prediction of Morse is spot on, although you probably didn't think he would be this big of a disappointment(I certainly didn't).

    Anon 15 11:50- I believe Crawford is better, but he would've cost the Nats even more since they had to overpay for Werth, I can't imagine how much Crawford would've been. As probably the best left fielder in the game, the Green Wall doesn not suit him best, could've been great at Nats Park. I think he'll turn it around. Sam Fuld small sample size, but so far so good.

    On a side note, the longer the CAPS play, you and your wife will have your hands full. I'm not sure how you write simultaneous summaries, your attention span must be bigger than most.

  11. Dave Nichols // April 26, 2011 at 1:29 PM  

    Maddy, thanks. it's tougher some days than other :-)