Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Meet your Washington Nationals

SONY DSC                     The Washington Nationals are not on anyone’s list of NL East dark horses this year. That’s because there is next to nothing to like about this team, (six assistants to a vacant General Manager position, anyone? And that guy in the picture, shaking everyone’s hand? That would be the multiple-injury plagued, $5 million a year, Dmitri Young.) Well, at least the offense is not awful. The Nationals have scored 34 runs in 7 games (4.86 per game); not an atrocious amount. However, they have allowed 54 runs – at a rate of 7.71 runs per game, second only to the Indians eight. Rewind that. The Nationals team ERA is 7.71. Surely, this must be a statistical aberration, you say. Nay! Without getting too detailed, suffice it to say that the Nationals have three pitchers with ERAs under 4.50. None of them are starters. Daniel Cabrera, (4.91), Scott Olsen (14.63), and John Lannan (10.00) have each made two starts, and Shairon Martis (9.00) has added one. 31 IP, 32 ER, 47 H, 14 BB, 16 Ks… you find me a good number in that line. The 1.97 WHIP? The 4.65 K/9 ratio? The bullpen has got Julian Tavarez and Joe Beimel doing good work. And yes, I know we are dealing with small sample sizes here, but are these numbers going to change drastically anytime soon? Probably not.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Nationals Manager Manny Acta insists on handicapping his already borderline offense by batting Ryan Zimmerman in the three spot, in front of Adam Dunn, every single game. The result? His team is 0-7 (at least this time, it only took them 19 innings to get their first in-game lead). To his credit, this is a tricky situation, and I can see his side of it. Dunn has an alarmingly high affinity for the strikeout. And Zimmerman is really your only other half-decent, hit-the-ball-out bat on the team. But leaving Dunn in front of Nick Johnson? How do you craft his inflated .273 average into some sort of lineup protection? This leaves us with the following: Certainly, you have to lead off with Elijah Dukes and Cristian Guzman, because, let’s face it, you don’t want to start using up your automatic outs, (Kearns, .158 avg), in the two hole. Now it’s Zimmerman and Dunn left. I say put Dunn at #3, and Zimmerman at #4. Zimmerman isn’t the greatest hitter – although I am calling him for a semi-breakout this year – and he probably isn’t experienced enough to know when pitchers are pitching around him. But he will learn extremely quickly in this lineup. Zimmerman is certainly respectable enough to afford Dunn some protection, which is our main goal. You put Dunn in the 3-hole, you get an extra 17 or so at bats from him over the course of the year, and you actually give the guy a chance to hit. Johnson still falls into the 5-hole, but at least your primary home run hitter still has protection. Johnson isn’t a completely inept hitter, and as long as Zimmerman can realize when they’re trying to pitch around him, you do alright. Fill out the lineup with your remaining outs from Belliard (if he ever takes the field again), Flores, Kearns, and pitcher. How many games will the Nationals win with five hitters? To this point, that would be zero games. And, as many of you know, Nick Johnson is made of glass. It’s only a matter of time before he’s placed on the DL, and then you’re left with four hitters. That’s an ugly day.

Why am I making such a big deal out of this? Who cares if Dunn bats with no protection? Let me explain. Dunn is currently on pace to walk 254 times; he has 22 at bats and 11 walks. He has always had a good eye, but right now they’re just not giving him anything to hit. And why should they? Last year, Dunn had more doubles and home runs(63) than singles (59). In other words, if you pitch to the guy, and he makes contact, he’s more likely to land on 2nd or cross home than he is to stop nicely at first. The Nationals most common lineup has Dunn followed by Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, and Jesus Flores, all of whom have .333 OBPs. Which wouldn’t suck, except that it is their collective slugging percentage as well. In other words, throw Dunn on base, you keep him at first, and chances are, he’s stranded there. Maybe he gets bumped to second. And guess what? Besides Dunn’s own two home runs, he has scored twice. He has made it on base 17 times, excluding those two bombs, and he currently has a .576 OBP, (yes, that is 1st in the NL). Listen, if you keep batting Dunn #4, your most powerful bat will continue to walk. He has a great eye; that’s fine. But his insane ability to launch balls 500 feet away from the plate is far more valuable.

On an unrelated note, the Royals have managed to go 5-3, while scoring only 27 runs (3.38 per game) and allowing 24 runs (3 per game). By comparison, the 5-3 Dodgers have scored 43 and allowed 24.

Congratulations, Washington – April 13, 2007

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