Monday, February 21, 2005

No, 3.92 Runs Isn't Enough

One of the strange disconnects that I've noticed since I started hacking away at the keyboard is how the majority of coverage of the team has focused on the questions of the pitching staff and has been quite complimentary of the offense. It hasn't made sense to me at all.

Last year, they finished 15th out of 16 teams in runs scored per game. Their pitching was slightly better, finishing tied for 11th.

(Olympic Stadium/Hiram Bithorn played as a pretty strong pitcher's park last year. Based on Diamond-Mind's stats, the two parks combined for below average statistics in everything but doubles.)

Barry Svrluga seems to get it. In Monday's Post, he writes about the team's offensive outlook (No, I don't think that was an intentional pun.)
They couldn't get on base regularly. Too often, they stranded the runners that did reach. They ranked among the three worst teams in the National League in nearly every major offensive category, from batting average to slugging percentage to on-base percentage to runs batted in. Last season, when they played as the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals simply couldn't score. The biggest problem in that regard?

"Lack of offense," Manager Frank Robinson said....

"We just didn't get it out of the people that we expected to get it out of," Robinson said Sunday. "We struggled. Any time you don't get the numbers out of the people you are expecting to get it out of, you're going to struggle. We certainly did that."


Barry points to Vinny Castilla and Jose Guillen as sources of improvement. Unforunately, he cites RBI as a reason why they're better. (Ryan, can you deconstruct that one for me?) I think that Castilla and Tony Batista are probably a wash. And Guillen is probably slightly better than Juan Rivera. I wouldn't say that those two are a clear upgrade though.

Barry also cites "Inning-Endy" Chavez and Nick "The Sick" Johnson as the two most likely sources for improvement. We've been over Endy ad nauseum. I won't rehash it now, because you certainly know the drill. No power + No Plate Discipline = Singles Hitter Who Makes a TON of Outs.

NJ is much more interesting. Because of injuries, he's failed to live up to the potential he showed when he tore up the International League with Ted Williams-like numbers. If he can stay healthy, he's a good bet to markedly improve on the pedestrian .251/ .359/ .398 line he put up last year. Something like .280/ .400/ .470 is not unrealistic. If he hits that, this team will surprise some people.

Looking at the rest of the team, the most likely place for improvement is (You better sit for this) Shortstop. Cristian Guzman has taken a lot of abuse from many of us, because he has, at times, been the rich man's Endy Chavez.

Last year he hit .274/ .309/ .384, which is right about his career average. And the key factor in his case, is that he's just 26, meaning he still has a year or two to put up better numbers.

Guzman aside, the main reason I'm looking for improvement is because the man he's replacing, Orlando Cabrera, had one of the all-time bad seasons. He slipped under the radar for most of the year, especially because he was smelling like a rose by the end (Or maybe he reeked of champagne?). But, when he was in the land of the fleur-de-lis, he hit an execrable .246/ .298/ .336. (Probably much to the delight of Rey Ordonez and Ray Oyler.) Cristian Guzman could probably hit that next year even if he did nothing but bunt. That's going to be a huge improvement in the offense.

For the rest of the team, I don't see any breakout performances. Nor do I see any precipitous declines, as long as Vidro's knee isn't wretchedly wrenched.

It's a team that has had its share of offensive offense. But, it's also poised for some decent improvements. With the strength and depth of the pitching staff, if the offense can approach league average, .500 is beckoning loudly. And considering this team walked off the field in disappointment 95 times last year, that'd be a huge first step towards the greatness that we all hope will come in the future.

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