After Sunday’s loss to the Braves, tragic news broke that the Nationals’ OBP had sunk lower than the Marlins. The Marlins offense has often been ridiculed and laughed at for how comically bad it is and while the Marlins are well on their way to losing 100 games, more was expected from the Nationals. The Nationals’ failure to score runs is the biggest reason for their record this season and not having a lot of baserunners is no way to score runs.
While watching a Nationals game or listening to the sports talk radio afterward, there is often talk of how good teams score in certain situations. Take Saturday’s game against the Braves, for example. In the top of the ninth, after Ryan Zimmerman closed his eyes and fisted a ball into the outfield, Adam LaRoche hit a ringing double and the Nationals had runners on second and third with no outs.
Ian Desmond was the next batter and he had a decent at-bat, working the count to 2-2 before being fooled by a slider on the outside corner. It is no shame to strike out against Craig Kimbrel, a pitcher that strikes out nearly 50 percent of the batters he faces, but after Desmond came Roger Bernadina and Danny Espinosa. Those two haven’t just been two of the worst hitters on the Nationals, but two of the worst hitters in baseball, and what one would expect to happen happened, as Bernadina grounded into a fielder’s choice with Zimmerman out at the plate and Espinosa popped out on the first pitch.
The major league average for the percent of times a runner scores from third with less than two outs is 51 percent. The Nationals are at 48 percent. The best team in the league at scoring runners from third with less than two outs is the Seattle Mariners at 59 percent. The Mariners are averaging 3.62 runs a game, marginally higher than the 3.46 the Nats are averaging. That 10 percent difference in scoring with a runner on third and less than two outs is worth an entire 0.16 runs a game, or to put it another way, it takes the Mariners six games to score an extra run more than the Nationals.
That isn’t that big of a difference and most teams are right around the 50 percent mark with little correlation shown in runs scored. But if we change the sorting and look at the amount of times a team has had a runner on third and less than two outs, we find that the team that has done it the most is the A’s, who score 4.76 runs a game, and the team with the least opportunities is the White Sox, who score 3.42 runs a game. The Nationals find themselves in the bottom half of the league here, and if we look at batting opportunities with men on base, we find that the Nationals are credited with the second-fewest plate appearances with men on base.
It takes no more than looking at the Nationals’ .287 on-base percentage to know that they have trouble getting on base, but are they worse at driving in runs or at situational hitting, as some claim? The answer is yes. The Nationals are bad at hitting with men on base. Their .694 OPS with men on base is the sixth-worst in baseball. With bases empty, the Nationals are actually worse with an OPS of .635, which is the fourth-worst in baseball. This is an easy conclusion to reach, and since the Nationals’ overall offensive numbers are bad, it stands to reason that they would be bad in any situation, and they are.
When looking at who the players are that are getting the most opportunities with men on base, the news isn’t that bad. The top five plate appearances with men on base for the Nationals have been by LaRoche, Desmond, Denard Span, Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. For the most part, those are the guys you want up in those situations and they have all done what is expected of them. The problem is that among the 11 other Nationals with more than 10 plate appearances with men on, only Wilson Ramos has an OPS greater than .700. With injuries having thrust the bottom of the Nationals roster into the spotlight, they have plainly and simply not performed. The Nationals’ star players have performed like stars, but they don’t have a role player to speak of.
While the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters should never carry an offense, the average National league seventh through ninth hitters have an OPS of .652; the Nationals are at .546. The Nationals have the top of the roster to be contenders, but the bottom of the roster is a mess, and until that is cleaned up, the Nationals will continue to struggle in both getting runners on and getting them in.
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.