Getting Napoli’d: The Nationals Run Environment, By Inning

The Washington Nationals offense over the course of the 2013 season has been uninspiring. Uninspiring enough to inspire the firing of longtime hitting coach Rick Eckstein, and to find the Nats wallowing around .500 for most of the season and in the basement of many National League offensive categories, as I have discussed previously here at HDIB?.

August has provided a renaissance of sorts for Nats bats and has propelled the team to a 16-9 record on the wings of a 4.92 runs per game average. Somewhat lost in the shuffle is the renewed ability of Nats pitchers and the defense to suppress runs — in August, the team has allowed 3.8 runs per game, tied with June for the lowest average for the season.

Many point to new hitting coach Rick Schu as the reason for the offensive resurgence, while others look at Jayson Werth‘s fantastic post-DL run, which sees him hitting to a .355/.441/.595 slash line to go along with a 27.97 RE24 and 17 home runs since June 4th; August has been even more unreal for the right fielder, hitting .412/.505/.617 for the month.

Overall, things seem to be clicking quite nicely for the offense as well as the pitching in August, after months of what seemed to be inconsistent bursts of scoring scattered about many innings of zeroes. The offense seems to be more consistent and generating scoring opportunities on a more even keel.

Is that the case? Are things running on all cylinders, or is there something else guiding the Nats to victory?

Let’s take a look at a couple of graphs — the first looks at the Nats runs scored (RS/9) and runs against (RA/9) compared to the NL average (RL/9) for their 2013 thus far:

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 12.32.39 PM

Here, we are looking at averages per nine innings; I also took the liberty of not including extra inning data, as it can sometimes not be a true indication of a team’s run scoring or prevention abilities, due to erratic lineup switches and position players pitching and the like.

So what do we have here? In general, the best chance for the Nats to score runs is during the first time through the lineup; once players start getting into their second and third at bats, things don’t look so good with respect to generating runs. We do find a conundrum of sorts here, when you consider the team has 27 comeback wins to go along with 25 blown leads. From a pitching perspective, the late innings don’t look so hot, either. As the drop in offense in the later innings comes a propensity to give up runs. Comparing these to the NL averages and seeing that the offense and pitching are on the wrong side of the league average at the same time, we come to the realization that the disappointing season has been a team effort — no one thing can really be pinned as the ultimate reason as to why the Nats have struggled.

OK, enough of that. Let’s see if August looks any different for the Nats:

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 12.33.34 PM

With this chart, we don’t have the NL average line included because league run scoring averages by inning across month aren’t the easiest things to get your hands on; however, we do know that league averages remain fairly consistent across months, so we can be confident the line would mimic the one we saw in the first chart and will hover around 4 for the most part. More broadly, we see that the Nats are, on average, scoring more runs than they give up in five of nine innings in August, compared to only three of nine for the season overall. That tends to be a good thing. However, we also see the late innings being a bugger yet again when it comes to run prevention in August, with some pretty high runs against average in the eighth and ninth — while Tyler Clippard is as rad as it gets when it comes to relief outings, he can’t pitch them all. Looking at the offense, we see a more consistent pace when it comes to scoring by inning — the chances of a later inning outburst is seen more frequently in August compared to the season overall, which bodes well for either a laugher of a game, or a late inning comeback. While the ninth inning offense looks pretty darn sad, this average is driven by home games — when you’re ahead and playing at home, you don’t hit in the ninth inning, hence the lack of runs here. Confusing, for sure; however, it does bear monitoring, especially in away games or close games, where scoring in the ninth does become a big deal.

Let’s take a quick look at big innings for both the offense and the pitchers. Here, I define a big inning for both as an inning where four or more runs are either scored/given up; obviously, big innings are good for hitters and bad for pitchers.

Here’s what it looks like for the Nats for the season and for the month of August:

Innings Innings/Gm
Hitters, 2013 23 1.56
Pitchers, 2013 22 1.49
Hitters, Aug. 5 1.8
Pitchers, Aug. 3 1.1

Not only has August seen a more consistent offense output, it has also seen the Nats more prone to a breakout inning or two; the pitchers are also doing a better job of not letting things get out of hand, in spite of their late innings still remaining a little shaky. For those curious, the big innings (as defined here) for the pitchers were in the first, fifth, and sixth innings in August.

The upswell in runs and victories seen in the month of August for the Nats has been encouraging to see and has provided a glimmer of hope when playoff hopes are discussed — while it will still take a lot of things to go DC’s way, the effort of the club, in particular the hitters, is becoming less and less of a point of contention for fans. However, the efforts of the pitching staff and their improved ability to prevent runs should not be forgotten and should be heralded as the Nats ride this wave of success.

 

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All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference

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