It's Not How, It's How Many

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | , , , | 2 comments »

GM Mike Rizzo gave an interview to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal that was published yesterday, and the gist of the piece was that Rizzo was happy with how his Washington Nationals were playing except hitting with runners in scoring position.  In fact, he said exactly that: 
"We’re playing terrific baseball except for the fact that we’re struggling with runners in scoring position.”
Rizzo echoed the sentiments later in the same article in context to winning.
“Am I happy with the won-loss record? No. But I think it’s really based on us not hitting with runners in scoring position, getting the big hit."
Yahoo.com's Hardball Talk took these comments to task
Washington is hitting .230 with a .663 OPS overall, compared to .228 with a .697 OPS with runners in scoring position. In other words, they’ve actually been slightly better with runners in scoring position. Obviously the Nationals would have more wins if they were hitting, say, .328 with runners in scoring position, but when a team bats .230 overall and .228 with runners in scoring position, pointing to that as the problem is silly.
Rizzo and Riggleman are absolutely correct that he team isn't hitting well with runners in scoring position.  But as the statistics show, they aren't hitting well period, hitting .230/.301/.361 overall (15th, 15th and 13th in the N.L.), and the difference between their numbers with RISP and not is, well, statistically negligible. 

The Nationals are playing well defensively, and up until the last few nights were still getting pretty good pitching, things that the Nationals have every right to be happy about so far this season.  They are breaking in young players at short, second, catcher, center and closer, have been without their best player for the entire season minus eight games, and just lost their first baseman for an unknown length of time.

The real problem the Nationals have offensively is that they just don't have enough baserunners.

The Nats are exactly league average at converting base runners into runs (14 percent), but they are 14th in the league in number of base runners (just one base runner more than Pittsburgh).  Looking deeper into the stats, the Nationals are tied for first in the league percentage-wise (59 percent) scoring a runner from third with less than two outs.

They are second in the league advancing runners from second with no outs, and first in the entire league in "productive outs" percentage.  The problem, again, is that they are 14th in the league in such opportunities.

The statistics suggest that it's not how the Nationals are performing with runners in scoring position, its that they simply don't have enough opportunities to bat in those situations.  And that all comes down to on base percentage.  Baserunners equal runs, and the Nats just aren't getting on base enough.

All statistics courtesy of this table at Baseball-Reference.com.

(ed. Earlier attribution of second quote to Jim Riggleman has been edited to properly attribute to Mike Rizzo.)

2 comments

  1. Let Teddy Win // May 25, 2011 at 5:38 PM  

    Dave, you've summed it up about as succinctly as humanly possible.

    The remaining question is whether you believe the likes of Werth, LaRoche, Desmond, and Espinosa have a future as .230 hitters, or as Riggleman likes to espouse, take on faith that they'll bust out of it.

  2. Dave Nichols // May 26, 2011 at 11:55 AM  

    Teddy: I don' think Werth is a .230 hitter. LaRoche was obviously injured, so he's off that hook as well. Desmond and Espi, however, are still finding their way. Espi never hit for average in the minors either, but has enough plate discipline to make up for it with his OBP. Desmond swings at everything and is allergic to walking. if he dosen't either refinehis approach or find a way to make more contact, he might end up going the way of Justin Maxwell--all the talent in the world, but just can't make enough contact.