As the Nationals head into the offseason, you’re going to hear plenty about their need to get better at the top of the lineup. If that sounds familiar, it should - manager Jim Riggleman talked at the end of the 2010 season about the need to get better in the leadoff position. As the Nationals went into the spring, though, they were hoping that either Nyjer Morgan would rebound from a subpar 2010 or someone would emerge internally as a leadoff option.
After the season they had in 2011, it seems less likely they’ll be as willing to go into another season without getting external help. The numbers would suggest they need it.
Their .285 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot was the worst in the majors, seven points lower than the Giants’ .292 OBP. Their No. 2 hitters were tied for the worst OBP in the game, with the Braves, at .283. Had the Nationals even been at the National League averages at the two spots - .331 and .313, respectively - they might have won a few more games comfortably, instead of playing 54 that were decided by a run.
Ian Desmond fared well in the last month of the season in the leadoff spot, and wound up with a .318 OBP in 50 games there. But the Nationals were pushing hard for a leadoff hitter at the trade deadline, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pursue one again, so they can put Desmond in the No. 2 spot.
It’s likely they’ll come across many of the same names they’ve seen in the past - David DeJesus, B.J. Upton, possibly Denard Span and maybe even Grady Sizemore, who has an $8.5 million club option after three injury-filled years in Cleveland. But it seems like the Nationals will have to do something. After two years of struggling to get their leadoff hitters on base, they probably can’t afford not to address the problem this winter.