I've referred several times to "sample size," that is, how many at-bats or innings pitched should a team have to see before deciding whether a particular player is going to help them or not.
After 22 games, the Nationals likely aren't ready to make any drastic roster decisions. Their more significant free agent signings - Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche - have similar offensive numbers at this point. LaRoche is a notoriously slow starter, but his glove has certainly made a difference. The next tier of offseason signings, Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston Jr., haven't exactly caught fire yet either, but Ankiel's defense has been solid, and Hairston still isn't exactly an everyday player.
The biggest disappointment is probably pinch-hitting specialist Matt Stairs, who is 0-for-the season, with four walks and a run scored. Stairs has a commanding presence in the clubhouse, I'm told, but these guys are paid for production, and he knows that as well as anyone. It's easy to look at his age - 43 - and assume that perhaps he's lost some bat speed since even last year. A closer look at last year, however, may provide some insight to Stairs' 2011 start.
With San Diego in 2010, Stairs was 1-for-17 to start the year. By May 18 he was hitting .154. But, take away the slow start, that 1-for-17, and from that point on he hit .268 with six home runs in 82 at-bats, a pretty solid performance for a 42-year-old who rarely batted more than once a game, and almost never had a daily plate appearance. That's the Stairs the Nationals believe will emerge.
Now, that's not to suggest that Stairs necessarily can afford a interminable dry spell. GM Mike Rizzo is a patient man, but even he has his limits. No amount of admiration - or ego - will stand in the way of a roster change if he believes it to be necessary. Rizzo knows delivering bad news is just a part of the job.
We're not out of April yet, and despite last night's loss to the Mets, the Nationals have held their own despite an overall lack of offense and the lack of Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup. There's 140 games left to play, and no one is ready to push the panic button.