Don’t Count on the Nationals

Beyond the Pittsburgh Pirates’ tremendous start to the season, the struggles of the Washington Nationals have been arguably the most surprising story lines of the first half of the 2013 regular season. Going into the season, many pundits picked the Nationals to be the powerhouse of the National League and possibly all of baseball, but the Nationals’ offense has really struggled to this point. In 2012, the Nationals’ offense was one of the most powerful lineups in the National League, as it ranked 2nd in the NL in HRs, 5th in Runs Scored and 3rd in SLG Percentage in route to a 98-64 finish. However that production has greatly fallen off in 2013, as the Nationals rank just 10th in HRs in the NL, 14th in Runs Scored and 13th in Slugging Percentage in route to a 39-39 record thus far. Despite such a dramatic drop in production, most experts warn that once the Nationals find their groove they will be the team to beat in the NL and likely overtake the Braves as NL East leaders.
While the offense’s underproduction has drawn the most attention, the Nationals’ pitching statistics have also fallen off from 2012, despite strong performances from Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals have gone from a solid 3.34 team ERA in 2012 to a more average 3.61 team ERA. This drop in pitching is not very drastic overall, but it has been compounded by the Nationals’ inability to produce runs at their former rate.
When looking at a few of the players that make up the Nationals’ lineup, it is apparent they are performing right where you would expect based on the career numbers. Danny Espinosa began this season very poorly with a .158/.193/.272 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line before being demoted to Triple-A. Espinosa has never been a high batting average or high OBP hitter, but his power at a middle infield position has always made him a valuable asset. However, this season he has just 3 HRs in 158 ABs and his contact and walk issues have continued, as his K% sits at 28.1% so far this season and his BB% is at a career-low 2.4%. Rookie infielder, Anthony Rendon, has stepped in at 2b very successfully with a .354/.402/.485 slash line, but it remains to be seen if he will be so successful as the season continues. The real concern for Anthony Rendon is that his Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) sits at an unsustainable .420, which suggests he has been very lucky and will likely see his overall batting average decline. The Nationals have seen similarly poor production at catcher, where Kurt Suzuki has struggled to fill-in for the injured Wilson Ramos. Despite his $6.5 Million salary, Suzuki’s .214/.280/.305 slash line is no surprise, as his batting average has decline for four straight years and his OBP has dropped for five straight years. While Ramos is the superior hitter and owns a career .267/.331/.432 slash line, he has battled injuries his entire career, with just one full season at the big league level. The greatest reason the Nationals’ lineup has struggled to hit as many HRs this season is that they replaced power-hitting Michael Morse with light-hitting Denard Span. In 2011, Morse led the Nationals with 31 HRs, and in 2012, Morse hit 18 HRs in during an injury shortened season. However, in 2013, Span has hit to just a .257/.310/.344 slash line with no HRs; whereas, Morse has hit 11 HRs with a .251/.313/.454 slash line.
The Atlanta Braves currently lead the division by 5.5 games, thanks in part to having the best pitching staff in the Majors, based on ERA. There are no signs that the Braves will slow down, as they continue to hit HRs, with the 2nd most in the NL and the Braves’ strong pitching is also likely to continue as they were 4th in the NL in ERA in 2012. The Nationals certainly are not out of the race in the NL East or the Wild Card race, but they will need some quality additions at the Trade Deadline, and even then it will be a difficult run to the Postseason. It seems that the Nationals are performing where one would expect given the track record for many of the players.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Count on the Nationals

  1. Lads, I enjoyed reading this piece about the statistical analysis of the Nationals’ so-so season so far. Interesting that there was no mention of former Phillies Werth? Is he not werth the money? NPI!


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