Fanning the Flames

Just when you think a team is on the cusp of putting it all together and playing to their potential and even saying as much, this happens:

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The dumpster fire I speak of is last night’s convincing 11-1 loss at the hands of Jeff Samardzija and the Chicago Cubs. Convincing in just how toothless the Nats offense can be in generating any runs besides those that come from a home run, which inspired me to do some sleuthing and tweet this:

Just to clarify, since 140 characters can sometimes not be enough to truly express your thoughts on something as big of a train wreck as the Nats offense has been this season – even with a great winning percentage in games when someone hits a homer, the Nats are still about 30 points below league average when it comes to securing victory after securing said runs. When they don’t hit a home run the situation is even more miserable, suffering a terrible record as well as being almost 70 points worse than league average when runs are needed from other sources. Essentially, the Nats offense has devolved, if these numbers are to be taken as ground truth, into one that subsists solely on home runs.

Is that the case? Are the Nats that hapless with bats in their hands — can they generate offense without their power hitters?

Let’s Baseball-Reference surf. First, the good stuff; a table showing Washington’s place in the National League for homers:

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.12.54 PM

8th place in a 15 team league – not so bad. OK, so we have an adequate homer hitting team. What else do the Nats have, compared to their NL foes?

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For OPS+, they only outpace the Miami Giancarlos Marlins in terms of overall value of the team’s offense. Ick. Let’s look deeper; how about situational hitting, and some of the more nuanced aspects of hitting that might show the Nats being an adequate small ball team. For this, let’s look at productive outs, which are defined by the PrdOut stat as a sacrifice by a pitcher with one out, any runner advancing with no outs, or driving in a base runner with the second out of the inning. Gritty, gutty, small ball.

How does Washington size up?
Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.19.20 PM

Oh. Dead last in productive out opportunities, and, while not pictured, 13th in the NL for productive out success rate (31%). Add to it the 13th best sacrifice bunt rate in the NL in the third most attempts (a sign that the team is truly trying to find creative ways to get runners on base and to score), and we have a decent explanation for this table and its highlighted stat, runs created per game (RC/G):
Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.16.13 PM

…which again shows the Nats towards the bottom of the pile, but not egregiously so. That’s promising…right?

If you consider that 4.2 value and peek over at the runs scored per game column (R/G) and compare the two, you notice a disparity to the detriment of the Nats — even with the decent number of opportunities to score, they are not all getting converted in the form of plating base runners.

So the team can’t do much of anything in the form of generating runs outside of home runs — is there some bad luck involved, in the form of making contact, but just right at the defense, thereby generating outs? Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) can help us quantify some of that:

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.14.58 PM

…and by the looks of it, there is some bad luck involved potentially with the offensive impotence seen with the Nats bats, in the form of a below average .287 BABIP. Looking at raw balls put in play (not pictured), we find the team puts 68% of balls in play, which is exactly league average. Putting these two stats together and luck may not be as strong of an explanation to the Nats woes — it may just simply be Nats fans are watching a below average offense not taking advantage of the inherently few opportunities it generates for itself.

One last stat, just to tie a bow on this turd blossom of a post. Maybe the error here is looking at the parts of a sum, and that the offensive contributions of each of the Nats truly exceed their sums with respect to the hitting situations we have discussed. Maybe the fact that the team has three players in the top 30 in home runs in the NL (Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, and Jayson Werth) is all that we need to know about the offense, and that all of these fancy maths and stats are somehow misrepresenting the true value of the hitters and the value of the hitting situations encountered thus far in the season. Somehow, the true peak of the offense has yet to be reached, and all of these basement dwelling standings are a mirage.

Here, we have highlighted NL adjusted batting runs (BtRuns), which explains how many runs a hitter contributes to his team above and beyond what a league average replacement player would provide. In other words, better than average players will have positive values, players who deserve to be released or be in the minor leagues will have negative values. Add up all of the values of the team and you hope to have something positive.

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 6.14.39 PM

Well then. Not only is the NL not that great with respect to this statistic, the Nats are atrocious, over 35 batting runs below league average. A lot can be said about what contributes to this overall value — poor play, poor lineup construction, poor situational outcomes, perhaps Dengue Fever, but in the end, when compared to their cohorts, the Nats have not produced, home run, or otherwise. As an aside and as a way to measure things with this BtRuns stat, the 2012 Nats were third in the NL in the category at 18.5, behind the San Francisco Giants (64.8) and St. Louis Cardinals (59.7).

Flame on, phoenix.

***

*all tables/statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference

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