At the beginning of the 2011 season, third base coach Bo Porter had said he was planning to have the Nationals run less - or at least in a different manner. Porter wanted the team to steal fewer bases and spend more time trying to take an extra base on a ball in play. His reasoning was sound: If a baserunner is fast enough to steal second, he's also fast enough to go from first to third on a single. It was a way to be aggressive with less risk of making an out on the basepaths.
So how did the approach fare? The Nationals stole bases a little more efficiently in 2011, swiping 106 bases in 144 attempts for a 74 percent success rate (they were at 73 percent in 151 attempts in 2010). But there was a definite difference in what they did with the ball in play; they reached third or home 91 times on singles this year, up from 63 times last year. And as a team, they took an extra base 40 percent of the time, up from 36 percent in 2010.
As a whole, the Nationals ran with more controlled aggression in 2011 - and the players who did it best (Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and even Wilson Ramos, who took an extra base 48 percent of the time) will be around to keep up that approach for years. But just like last year, the Nationals had a slightly lower percentage of their baserunners score than the league average; they had 28 percent of their runners score in 2011, compared to a league average of 29 percent. In 2010, they were at 29 percent, below a league average of 30 percent.
By most accounts, this was a competent team on the bases. It also was in 2010. But there's no substitute for getting more runners on base - or getting more hits when they're in scoring position. That's where this offense will ultimately have to change to be successful, and if there are more runners on base, there will be less room to run.
In the end, though, the Nationals scored just 624 times in 2011. That's 31 fewer runs than they scored last year, and the fifth-fewest in the National League. And that's not good enough, no matter how good they felt about the style by which they got their runs. It's great to run effectively, but it's even better to hit productively with men in scoring position. With Adam LaRoche coming back, Zimmerman fully healthy and Werth looking to rebound from a down year, the Nationals will hope they can move in that direction in 2012.