Now that the season's over and all the season's data has settled into place, I'll take a look at the Nationals' stats every once in a while to see what trends we can find about the 2010 squad.
A few of you have asked about a subtle change in the team's hitting approach - which saw a number of the Nationals' hitters being more aggressive and taking less pitches - and based on some of the things manager Jim Riggleman said at the end of the season, I'd suspect that approach could change in 2011.
Here's what the data shows from 2009 to 2010:
-In 2009, the Nationals swung at just 23.9 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, fourth-best in the National League. That number jumped to 29.8 percent in 2010, which was only 10th-best in the National League.
-They also didn't miss as many pitches in 2009; their swinging strike percentage was just 8.6 percent last year, which tied for fifth-best in the NL. That number rose to 9.3 percent in 2010, which again tied for 10th in the league.
-When the Nationals did hit the ball, they put it on the ground more often than they did in 2009; their ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was 1.34-to-1, as opposed to 1.23-to-1 in 2009. In 2010, only the Astros put the ball on the ground more often than the Nationals.
-And all this, of course, led to a less effective offense in 2010. The Nationals' team on-base percentage was just .318, 12th in the NL, and their 655 runs were 14th-best in the league. That's an 18-point OBP drop and 55-run reduction from 2009.
None of this is to say that the Nationals' offense was perfect last year, but that team's main issue was allowing runs, not producing them. This year, Washington pitched better, but couldn't put men on base or drive them in nearly as frequently.
So what changed? Well, for one, the Nationals went from having patient hitters like Nick Johnson (whose 4.38 pitches per plate appearance were second-most in the NL in 2009) and Elijah Dukes to younger, freer swingers like Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond (who struck out 109 times, second-most among big league shortstops). That's going to alter the composition of any offense, and the change in Adam Dunn's approach also had an effect on things. He was third in the NL in pitches per plate appearance at 4.33 last year; this year, he saw 4.11 per appearance, which was 10th in the league.
Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman were the only everyday players who saw more than four pitches per appearance; Josh Willingham, Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy all reached the threshold, but none had more than 451 PAs. And with an offense that hit the ball on the ground more often (and consequently saw a drop in slugging percentage), that's a recipe for fewer runs.
Things could get better in 2011 as Desmond matures as a hitter, but Bernadina and Danny Espinosa are also candidates to be low-OBP, high-strikeout players, and the Nationals need to get Nyjer Morgan back on track - or find someone who can get on base consistently at the top of their lineup. It's possible a better plate approach will have to come from outside; Jayson Werth, for example, had a .388 OBP this year and led the league in pitches per PA.
But Riggleman mentioned the need for more patient (or picky) hitters at the end of the season, and it's safe to say the Nationals will be looking to shore that area of their offense up, somehow, before next year.
"I don't know exactly how to answer for it, but I think maybe a couple categories that we're not real good in - the situational hitting, the on-base percentage - those two things probably have to go up a little more," Riggleman said on Oct. 3. "On-base percentage is the one area that we need to (improve). If our offense is going to score more runs, we've got to get on base a little more."