What We Knew About the Nats Offense

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | , | 0 comments »

Last night's embarrassing loss to the Milwaukee Brewers has most of the scribes in NatsTown penning columns about how the Nats seem to be crashing into oblivion like they did last season.  The timing is more or less the same.

The Nats have lost five out of six and eight of 11, dropping their record to a season-low five games below .500 at 21-26, a 72-win pace.  With two more games in Milwaukee, then three games with Philly next week, then a brutal 10-game west coast trip, it's hard to imagine them keeping even that pace up though, considering Ryan Zimmerman will be out for several more weeks and Adam LaRoche has joined him on the D.L.

Washington is last in the N.L. in batting average and on base percentage, and 14th in slugging.  It's kind of amazing they're 12th in the league in runs per game with those numbers, but that number is slowly declining as well, as two weeks ago they were in the middle of the pack.

In fact, the only statistical categories the Nats are proficient in are "small ball" categories.  They are fourth in the league in stealing bases, fifth in sacrifice hits and fourth in sacrifice flies.  This should once and for all reinforce the idea that "small ball" is counterproductive to having a good offense, as all it does is give up outs on purpose.  But some people will never learn, I'm afraid.

The thing that gets me in all of this is that people are surprised, including the players themselves.

The quotes that came out of the 11-3 loss last night were jarring in their lack of self-awareness.

Michael Morse:
“We’re better than this, and we know it.  It’s tough. The talent we’ve got, it’s frustrating right now. All it takes is a couple good innings, and we’ll get out of this. When things aren’t going your way, you start looking at everything. We’ve just got to play ourselves out of this.”
Jim Riggleman:
“You go through these things. There’s no team that goes through a season without hitting some periods like this. You like to never concede to that, but I would say no team ever goes through a season without going through some bad times. The key is to get out of those bad times as quickly as possible.”
Danny Espinosa:
"I think we're better than we've shown all year. We're a real good team."
I'm sure the manager and the players are frustrated, and they have to lean on the fact that their talent is what made them Major League players to begin with.  But saying you're a good team does not make it so.

Morse says the team is better than this, and the players know it.  Well, let's examine what we knew about this team going into the season.

We knew Adam LaRoche had a tear in his shoulder in spring training; the doctors said so and the team announced it.  Regardless if the player said it didn't cause him pain to swing, with the joint being so unstable due to the tear, there was going to be a natural loss of strength and flexibility.  The fact that LaRoche is traditionally a "slow starter" only masked the true problem.

We knew Jayson Werth had compiled a significant portion of his statistics the last four years hitting against Nats pitching. We also knew that he hit worse away from the band box known as Citizen's Bank Park.  We also knew he started the season with a different batting stance than the one that helped him to those terrific numbers he earned in Philly.  His power seems to have normalized since changing back, but he's still not getting on base at previously inflated rates.

We knew Rick Ankiel was injury-prone, and not very good when he could manage to stay in the lineup.  A player that hits .246/.312/.430 over nine seasons is not a very good offensive player.  He could be the second coming of Paul Blair in center (which he's not), but the net asset is still not above replacement.

We knew Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Michael Morse were all susceptible to the strikeout and as young players, prone to streaks.  Espinosa's hitting in some back luck, with a BABiP of .226 so far.  He should have a few more hits fall in, raising his average slightly.  But Desmond (3.9%) and Morse (3.5%) are simply allergic to taking a walk (league average 8.7%).  Whether that's their reaction to trying to justify their positions or what they are, we'll have to wait and see.  If you can get a hitter out without throwing a strike, don't.

We knew Wilson Ramos would have growing pains and flashes of brilliance.  We knew Roger Bernadina was capable of double-digit homers and steals, but not elite on-base skills.

We knew Pudge (.217), Hairston (.248), Cora (.240) and Stairs (three hits in 38 plate appearances) were all past-their-prime roster-fillers, despite whatever intangible "leadership" traits that people would like to bestow upon them.

In fact, the only position player playing above his head is Laynce Nix.  Could he be having a career year at age 30?  Maybe.  But his stats indicate his success is being fueled by an unsustainable .388 BABiP.  He'll come back to earth too.

The only difference in what we knew at the beginning of the year and what we know now is just how bad it would be if Ryan Zimmerman missed a significant amount of time.  Well, now we know that too.

On June 2, 2009, Rizzo fired Randy St. Claire as pitching coach during a brutal stretch of pitching failure.  It only proved to be a prelude to Rizzo dismissing then-manager Manny Acta five weeks later. 

The players on this team believe they are better than what they've shown 47 games in.  But if the players the general manager hand-picked for this team continue to fail as they have so far this season, how long does the failure have to continue before there are consequences?