Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Halfway There, Livin' On A Prayer

What a disappointment. I had pegged the team at about 75 wins, and they're on pace for only 68. It isn't the losses that have been frustrating, per se, but the way they've lost. The offense, despite being better overall, has the same tendencies as last year's team to fall into deep ruts of nothingness. But it's the pitching staff that's given me the most heartburn. Livan and Patterson have given the Nats worse than nothing. And the team really misses a Loaiza-type quality start machine. Add it up, and it all sorta stinks. Let's take a look at where we went wrong.

First, a note about the stats I'll use. You'll notice that I typically give a series of stats in triplicate: .300/.350/.450. Most of you know what I mean by that, but some of you don't. It's simply batting average/ on-base %/ slugging %. Those three stats are a good snapshot for evaluating players. There are certainly better stats out there, but they're also generally more esoteric. When you're making KoolAid, you don't need to measure with the same sort of precision that you do when making TNT. And KoolAid is good enough for me, dammit.

OBP and SLG are generally more valuable than average. They measure how often a player makes it to first (bascially how often he doesn't make an out), and how much power he has. For OBP, league average is typically in the .350 range. Anything below .310 is unacceptable. Anything about .370 is terrific. Anything about .400 is drool-inspiring. For Slugging average, .500 is sort of the gold standard. Above that, the player's a slugger. If he's in the .450ish range, he's ok. If he's far below .400, he better get on-base a lot, or be a gold glover.

Here are the teams sorted by batting average. Take a look at how the run total jumps all over the place. Don't the Cubs, Reds, and Mets totals look out of place?

Here they are sorted by OBP. The Mets' run total still sorta sticks out, but it's roughly in decreasing run order. Here's slugging. Note the same sort of trend.

People smarter than me have run all sorts of calculations and figured out that those two stats correlate better with run scoring than average. (and that cursory glance backs that up, huh?).

Anyway, on to the stats.

League Average .268 .326 .389
Brian Schneider .232 .307 .313
Team .238 .305 .334

Perhaps the team's biggest disapointment. Brian Schneider, who was right at league average last year, has fallen off the table offensively. He just can't seem to get anything going, hitting in near Guzmanic territory. He's hit just 12 XBH this year, after cranking out 31 last year. Worse, his defense has fallen off the table, as runners are stealing on him frequently. He's only thrown out 22% of would-be basestealers.

Coming into the season, I assumed another near-gold glove performance, and offense that would approach league average. Instead, it's bad defense and inept hitting.

First Base
League Average .281 .361 .484
Nick Johnson .297 .423 .541
Team .289 .409 .522

Wow. Were the Nats a winning team, that's a borderline MVP performance, especially for someone who plays good defense and hits in a pitcher's park. NJ's done what we didn't expect, staying healthy, and upping his near-breakout performance from last year.

He's been to the plate 186 fewer times than last year and has nearly matched his counting stats: six fewer doubles, one less homer, and just 13 fewer walks. We're seeing the upside of Nick Johnson, something we had hoped for, but not really expected. Enjoy it while you can.

Second Base
League Average .275 .339 .417
Jose Vidro .306 .364 .403
Total .301 .361 .427

Jose Vidro, despite his faults, has been a pleasant surprise. He's turned back into the hit machine he was during his glory days with Les Expos, even as he's lost his power. Despite already having more plate appearances than last year's craptacular season, he has 9 fewer XBH. 40 doubles no more. Defensively, he started out better at the beginning of the season, but has slid. I think his knee must be aching up. With Jose, you've got a slightly better than average hitter and a below average fielder. Add it up, and he's roughly league average. Certainly that's useful, but for $8 million a year? Pass.

Third Base
League Average .283 .353 .472
Ryan Zimmerman .287 .349 .478
Team .284 .348 .467

Who would've expected that? I had happily penciled Zimmerman in for a Vinny Castilla season, something like .260/ .320 /.420. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Still, look at the league numbers. That's what's frustrating. For as good as he is, he's only league average. (Above, actually, when you factor in defense and park). But for all his strengths, he's still the fourth best 3B in the division. (Chipper, Cabrera, Wright)

League Average .264 .325 .379
Royce Clayton .269 .313 .348
Total .265 .310 .352

Royce Clayton can't even meet the meager numbers of the woeful league average shortstop. Throw in some bad defense, and you've got a Schneider-sized sinkhole. I didn't expect much out of him, and he's delivered.

Left Field
League Average .273 .354 .463
Alfonso Soriano .273 .339 .551
Total .272 .337 .542

Those numbers perfectly describe the Soriano experience. What he gives in slugging, he takes away in on-base skill. It's a delicate tradoff (especially as most statheads say that one point of OBP is more valuable than one point of SLG), but one that still makes Soriano valuable, especially when you factor in the park. Soriano's exceeded everyone's expectations, even with a month-long funk in June. I was pretty positive about his chances of hitting in RFK, but I didn't think that this was possible. Still, his future home is going to be story 1A of the coming month.

Defensively, he's night and day compared to what he was at the beginning of the year. He still plays about four steps too deep, but he's shown an excellent ability to use his speed on balls hit to his side, snaring a number of liners that lesser fielders might've missed.

League Average .261 .332 .408
Marlon Byrd .233 .303 .371
Total .237 .313 .392

Ouch. With Watson winning the job coming out of spring, I don't think anyone expected much out of center. But once he was set down, I certainly thought we'd have had the Church/Byrd platoon we wanted. I'm not going to whine anymore about Church (his attitude and performance in New Orleans stink), but he's STILL one of the top performers on the team based on OPS. And it's awfully strange that he got sent down after a bad week and a half (after recovering from the flu) when players like Schneider, Clayton, Guillen, et al, are allowed to work through their struggles.

League Average .275 .347 .450
Jose Guillen .209 .269 .400
Total .226 .296 .421

Alright, I'm going to go all Church again, but why is Jose Guillen allowed to crush the team like this, trying to play through injuries (shoulders, ribs, forearm, elbow)? Is being a man more important than being healthy? Is it REALLY in the team's best interest to put a body that's physically incapable of performing up to major league standards out there? Where does this attitude come from? Is it Jose Guillen himself (and with his tenuous contract status, I can see why he'd push?) Is it something instilled by Frank Robinson? Regardless, it's garbage. Jose Guillen NEEDS to be shut down until he's healthy. He killed the team in the second half of last year with his shoulder injury. And he's killing them this year.

Pinch Hitters
League Average .229 .303 .339
Marlon Anderson .231 .333 .256
Daryle Ward .300 .410 .667
Team .260 .390 .374

If there's one thing that's clearly better than last year, it's the pinch hitters. Last year, Tony Blanco was the #1 option. Anderson isn't the "extraordinaire" that some beat writers labeled him as. But Daryle Ward has been. Still, with such marked improvement, it shows how little influence over wins and losses (as a whole, not on an individual game, obviously) these guys have.

  • Later, I'll have some thoughts on the pitching.

    • I've been thinking abot Schneider's defense (his offense is bad, but he was only ever just reaching league average status). Do you think it's a product of the hamstring injury, the change in pitching staff (more rookies, more soft-tossers), or something else like bad attitude?

      By Blogger El Gran Color Naranja, at 7/12/2006 12:20 PM  

    • The hamstring injury is as likely a culprit as any.

      But remember, they shut him down last year because of a shoulder problem. I know they checked him out in the offseason, but I wonder if something nagging has come back.

      Ramon Ortiz allowed 6/12 base stealers last year. I don't think he's the problem. Everyone else, save O'Connor is the same. (more or less)

      Patterson was brutal with basestealers last year (26/37), and he's hardly pitched. So who knows?

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/12/2006 12:27 PM  

    • I really don't have the heart to read about the pitching.

      Kind of startling with his numbers that NJ has a lone majority whip.

      By Blogger Sam, at 7/12/2006 1:33 PM  

    • Nicely done!
      Isn't it technically Slugging Average rather than percentage?

      By Anonymous Max, at 7/12/2006 2:21 PM  

    • You're "good to go" on all your assesments with the exception of Zimmerman at third. I don't see a scenario where Chipper starts in front of Zimmerman if they are on the same team. His defense was so suspect that he spent a few years in left, and injuries are becomming a common occurance. Statisically, I would be very surprised if Jones surpasses Zimmerman in any significant stat. Remember, Zim's a kid and will only get better while Jones is nearing retiring age and could break down at any time.

      By Blogger Farid, at 7/12/2006 3:40 PM  

    • Farid, Chipper is hitting .315/ .403/ .520. He blows Zimmerman out of the water. It'd take a helluva lot of defense to make up for that.

      That being said, over the next 10 years, you take Zimmerman 14 times out of 10.

      Max -- one and the same, basically.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/12/2006 3:42 PM  

    • Great analysis. From the stats we can expect Nick and Fonzie to be gone by the end of the month. Not sure who else is of interest. I agree that Church has been terrible in New Orleans, but it still burns that he didn't get a fair shot with the club. With a young club it seems like you want to give the kid a chance.

      By Anonymous nosniv, at 7/12/2006 5:46 PM  

    • Not to damn you with faint praise, but much better then REDACTED's midseason review.

      My two cents are on the Guillen issue: we all know the guy has a high ceiling, but he hasn't played healthy since last july. Given the lack of OF prospects in the farm, and that we aren't going to get more then a bag of balls for him even if he does get traded, I feel like we should make the following offer to him: extend the contract at approx. the same salary for one year, essentially give him a redo of his contract year. In exchange, he doesn't complain when we put him on the 60-day DL for the rest of the season. He comes back hopefully healthy next year, and we can resign or trade him then.

      I mean, its not like we have a whole lot of better options :(

      By Anonymous JW, at 7/13/2006 6:40 AM  

    • There's absolutely a better option with Guillen: DFA. And if DFA doesn't work, put him on the 60-day DL and leave him there for the rest of the season. Combined with Mr. Robinson's vast managing acumen, Guillen is a waste of time batting fifth or sixth, a virtual automatic out...a certain rally killer.

      And if he complains and whines - the organization should just shut up and do nothing. That'd be the classiest thing for them to do - which makes it unlikely to happen.

      By Anonymous A wary fan, at 7/13/2006 8:11 AM  

    • JW -- I was tossing around the same idea, actually. Extend him and disable him. This year's lost. Let's make sure he's healthy, and convince him that if he comes back healthy, he'll be able to put up the big numbers to really make a payday in 08.

      That takes a level of self-restraint that I'm not sure that FRobby and Guillen have though. How many times have we heard that Guillen's going to be out a week, only to see him in the lineup the next night?

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/13/2006 8:44 AM  

    • Yeah, I don't know if he'd be willing to do it either. But, its something where you'd only need him to go for it at first, and if he changes his mind, "well, we've still got 57 more days til we can activate you..."

      And I assume your new picture is some form of sick joke, right?

      By Anonymous JW, at 7/13/2006 11:13 AM  

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