Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina all have something in common - and they shouldn't.
Each and every one of them has an under-.300 on-base percentage and all of them have batted second. Overall, Nationals No. 2 hitters are hitting .176/.216/.275. That isn't just bad production, that is horrid. The plan for the Nationals was to have career .267/.361/.460 hitter Jayson Werth in that spot, but that hasn't worked out as Werth moved down in the order when Ryan Zimmerman was hurt and has recently been on the disabled list himself. Right now, the biggest issue with the Nationals lineup is that they are not getting production out of an extremely important line-up spot.
How much of a difference has this made? Forget Werth's career averages and focus on his subpar 2013 batting line of .260/.308/.400, and while this is still below the National League average of .257/.314/.395 for a two-hole hitter, it would change things dramatically. Of the Nationals' 1,370 total plate appearances, 162 of them have gone to the No. 2 hitter. Just five less than the 167 that have gone to the leadoff hitter and 11.8 percent of the Nats' total plate appearances. In those plate appearances, the Nats No. 2 hitter has reached base just 21.6 percent of the time. Raise that to the 30.8 percent that Werth has reached base this season and that is 15 additional base runners for the Nats - think of it as 15 additional men on base for Bryce Harper.
To think of it in even a different way, the advanced stat wOBA - or weighted on-base average - measures the exact run value of each base a batter reaches. For Werth, those 15 bases would be worth .311 runs each or five additional runs, and that is with Werth batting below his career averages. If it is figured that Werth would have been more at his career averages for the time he missed, then figure that he would have been on base 23 more times compared to the average Nats No. 2 hitter and each of those bases would have been worth .358 runs each or eight additional runs scored for the Nats. In total, it takes the Nats from a team scoring 3.61 runs a game to one that scores 3.82 runs a game, and that isn't counting the additional at-bats Harper would get due to having less outs in front of him in the lineup.
This is all well and good, but a lot of it has to do with the what-if of Werth staying healthy, and while it demonstrates how much the Nationals lineup is missing him, it does nothing to help them until he returns to the order. There is one solution on the current Nats roster. The Nats should stop trying to force a square peg into a round hole with low OBP hitters in the two-hole. They have a hitter on their roster that grinds out at bats, sees a lot of pitches and is getting on base at a .322 clip. That batter is catcher Kurt Suzuki. He does all the things that a traditional No. 2 hitter does and he runs well for a catcher.
That .322 OBP over the 162 plate appearances the Nats No. 2 hitters have seen leads to 17 addition base runners at a run value of .306 per base or five extra runs on the season. That is approximately the same value that 2013 Werth would have given the Nats in the two spot had he not got hurt and continued at the same pace as he had set before the injury. While the Nats can't heal Werth or rush him back to the lineup, they can replace the missing production from a very important lineup spot by simply inserting a player already on the roster. The Nats can then drop below-average hitters like Lombardozzi and Bernadina to the seventh or eighth spot - lineup spots that have 148 and 141 plate appearances, respectively, or spots that have 10.8% percent and 10.35 percent of the Nats' plate appearances.
By batting Suzuki second and lesser hitters down in the order ,the Nats can get a better hitter more plate appearances, a worse hitter less, and give Harper and a resurgent Zimmerman and LaRoche more at bats with men on base. Having your better hitters bat more often and your best hitters hit more often with men on base is what all teams want, how runs are scored and how baseball games are won.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.