Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Repost: Are the Nats suddenly a 100-win team? With this offense, yes.


The return of Michael Morse has energized the offense. Photo Jacqueline Martin via federalbaseball blog

(Editor note; I attempted to publish this last Friday, then the server immediately went down all weekend.  Wanted to re-post it to get commentary from typical readers.  All numbers below were as of last friday, before the wild 4-game series against Atlanta).

There’s been lots of press this week, and to an extent all season, about Stephen Strasburg‘s innings limit.  Mike Rizzo came out this week and said (paraphrasing) that there’s not a hard-and-fast 160ip limit, but that he will be shut down, and it will be Rizzo’s decision when Strasburg doesn’t pass the “eye test.”

Nats pundits are already discussing this impact on a playoff race, who the replacement may be (with John Lannan getting an early audition during this weekend’s double header), and whether we should flip someone out of our “thinned” farm system for a rental SP like Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster (I put “thinned” in quotes out of deference to those that don’t share my glass-is-half empty opinion on the state of our farm system right now as posted here earlier this week).

Inarguably, this team will be a worse team without Strasburg.  We’d be weaker in September once he got shut-down and we’d be hampered in a short series without our staff Ace.  I’m not worried about September though; remember last year?  Some teams were fielding 40-man roster specials, with lineups that mostly started the year in AAA.  And I’m not entirely worried about how we’d look in a playoff series, since playoff rotations go 4 deep (meaning whatever question mark we’re throwing out there as a 5th starter in September is in the bullpen in October), and a rotation of Gonzalez, Zimmermann (who, amazingly, is tied for the NL lead in pitcher bWAR right now), Jackson and Detwiler getting the game 4 start is still pretty durn good.

But, here’s some interesting stats that should give you (and anyone in baseball frankly) some pause; this team is positioned to get significantly better from here on out, despite the looming loss of Strasburg and despite the fact that they’re already in first place.  Why?

Because the offense is really starting to heat up.

Here’s some stats to give context: based on the Team Scoring page at, here’s the Nats scoring-based records:

  • When the Nats score 0,1,2 or 3 runs, they are 14-28, for a .333 W/L percentage. This is pretty common; even last year’s 102-win Philadelphia team rarely won when scoring 3 or fewer runs.
  • When the Nats score 4 or more runs?  They are 39-9 this season, a .795 W/L percentage.
  • Taking this a step further, when the nats score 5 or more runs, they’re 29-6, a .828 W/L percentage.

(For context, a record of 100-62 equates to a .617 W/L percentage).

Perhaps the above states the obvious; most teams have pretty good records when they score a bunch of runs.   For comparison sake’s, here’s the same analysis for the team with the best record in baseball, the Yankees:

  • Scoring: 0,1,2,3 runs: 5-23 for a .178 W/L
  • 4+ runs: 52-12, .813 w/l
  • 5+ runs: 44-10, .815 w/l

The Yankees and their superior offense leads to a ton of wins once they get above 4-5 runs.  The difference between the Yankees and the Nats is our current ability to win a pretty sizeable number of games when scoring 3 or fewer runs.  This difficulty in winning close games and depending on bashing your way to victory has been a theme for the Yankees for a few years now, and is one of the reasons they have only won one World Series since 2000 despite being in the playoffs nearly every year (only one missed playoff appearance during that span).  They are susceptable to getting shut down by a good rotation in a short series.  But I digress…

Getting back to the theme of this post: Here’s a look at the monthly W/L records for the Nats, along with average Runs scored and Runs Allowed (through July 19th’s game):

Month W/L W/L pct RS RA
April 14-8 0.636 3.36 2.68
May 15-13 0.535 4.21 3.85
June 15-11 0.576 4.46 3.73
July 9-5 0.642 4.78 3.57
season 53-37 0.588 4.166 3.488

Look specifically at the average number of Runs Scored by this team.  It is distinctly trending up; from 3.36 RS/game in April to a massive 4.78 RS/game so far in the month of July.   That’s almost 1 and a half more runs they’re scoring a game right now as compared to April (when their 14-8 record was mostly on the backs of one of the best opening months of starting pitching seen in the Majors since the dead-ball era).

Some reasons for this outburst of runs?

  1. Ryan Zimmerman‘s cortisone shot on June 24th: he had a .589 OPS in June (which should have been even worse, but he finished the last week of June on a tear, going 11-32 with 5 extra base hits after getting his shot), but has a blistering 1.280 OPS so far in July.
  2. The top of the order stepping it up: Danny Espinosa is hitting .327 in July and Lombardozzi is hitting nearly as well.
  3. The resurgence of Roger Bernadina, hitting at a .375 clip so far in July and leading to the DFA of Rick Ankiel (my wife’s favorite player; I havn’t broken the news to her yet).

Meanwhile, the rest of the sluggers in the lineup (Harper, LaRoche, and Tyler Moore doing his best effort to prove scouting pundits wrong who thought he couldn’t hack it against MLB pitching) are for the most part churning along and providing pop in front of and behind the 3-4-5 hitters in the order.

And, this offense could only get better when Jayson Werth returns.  Remember; he was quietly having a solid year at the plate, with an .810 OPS and a 121 OPS+.  You insert Werth and suddenly this team is rock solid and full of power from position 2-7.  You’d have to sacrifice Bernadina and Moore to the bench primarily, but they’re great insurance in case Werth’s wrist betrays him.

They’re averaging 4.78 runs a game, and on the season they’re 39-9 when they score 4 or more runs.  That spells a pretty serious run I expect this team to make in the next month and a half, especially against a slate of opponents that are mostly .500 or below.  Right now, sitting at 53-37 they’re on pace for a 95 win season … but, amazing as it is to say it, this team easily has the capability of reaching 100 wins if their offense continues its upward trend.

7 Responses to 'Repost: Are the Nats suddenly a 100-win team? With this offense, yes.'

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  1. I think the best line came about 2-3 weeks ago from Thom Loverro ….. “bartender,cortisone shots for everyone”!
    As of a day ago Zimmerman’s OPS in July is 1.399!
    Roy Hobbs-like.

    Mark L

    24 Jul 12 at 11:06 am

  2. I like Loverro … but I never read him b/c the Examiner’s RSS feeds blow! You can’t subscribe to individual columnists, just a generic sports feed which is actually the AP wire feed, which has 100s of posts a day. And i don’t have time to read anything that’s not on my RSS feeds. Grrr.

    Todd Boss

    24 Jul 12 at 1:22 pm

  3. Desmond’s injury puts a bit of a damper on things, but otherwise I agree with analysis, or as Jordan Zimmermann put it, “there is no reason to believe we can’t run away with this thing.” Now we just need to avoid any more major bullpen meltdowns (crosses fingers).


    24 Jul 12 at 4:54 pm

  4. Desmond’s injury is a concern for sure, but his loss means playing finally playing both Espinosa and Lombardozzi in their natural positions … and it means more playing time for Moore in left. I have a feeling Moore will have to make way for Werth’s eventual return (you can’t lose DeRosa, he’s the only backup infielder left). They’re carrying too many outfielders frankly. If the team makes a move I wonder if it will be for a utility guy to provide cover. You really kinda need two backup infielders at any one time.

    Step one to bullpen redemption; stop putting Henry Rodriguez into high-leverage situations! 18 walks and 10 (10!) wild pitches in just 26 innings. He’s tied for the NL lead right now with a starter who has thrown nearly 5 times as many innings. At least Davey Johnson isn’t afraid to just pull the plug on him … like, immediately. He got taken out of the last game he was in with a 2-1 count. If it were me, Rodriguez would become my new mop-up guy. He only goes in if there’s an 5 run differential in the game one way or the other. Let him try to work his confidence back when its sunny and when there’s no pressure.

    Todd Boss

    24 Jul 12 at 5:10 pm

  5. Lannan came through when needed and Detwiler has at last figured it out. The bats are singing and after 6 game and counting w streak, the East Divison title is in sight. NATS will definitely go 90+.

    Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

    27 Jul 12 at 11:12 am

  6. I wouldn’t hold my breath as far as Werth is concerned and what he may contribute this year. Just my opinion. A wrist injury has to be really difficult to come back and play with during the same season. With an entire offseason of rehab and strengthening I think he’ll be back to the player he was but as far as this year is concerned, I think it may take him a while to get back to game speed.
    You also have to wonder about Harper potentially hitting a wall in the dog days of August/Sept.


    2 Aug 12 at 5:49 pm

  7. Completely agree. 120 ops+ before the injury; who knows just how healed he is. We’ll find out soon enough. Tonight’s game is the FIRST time the team has had their big 5 hitters in the lineup at the same time all year (Harper, Morse, LaRoche, Zimmerman and Werth). A good sign for the team.

    Harper has definitely hit a wall. As with Gio, is it league adjustments? Before he got called up, the scouting knock on him was an inability to hit off-speed stuff. I havn’t seen these splits lately, but after about a month in the big leagues Harper was getting the smallest percentage of fastballs of any hitter in the entire league. The entire league! Respect? Or good scouting? He proved himself to be a very adept first pitch fastball hitter, now he never gets them. And veteran/power lefties make him look just ridiculous (see the Pettitte game or the Cliff Lee game recently). Personally, I think he needs a break, he needs to sit against tough lefties now that the team is more or less at full strength. With Hamels out there, you fill the card with your RH hitters as best as you can (that means sticking DeRosa in LF, Morse at 1B, Werth in CF and the switch-hitting Lombardozzi in RF to go with the rest of their squad. The team is really missing Desmond, their best hitter and (until his injury) the leading home-run hitter on the team as a shortstop…

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 12 at 8:04 pm

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