July 23, 2013

Salvage Operation

Rick Eckstein was done in by Danny Espinosa, Denard Span and injuries that led to the most hilariously awful collection of reserve hitting performances imaginable.

The not-so-secret truth behind the 2013 Washington Nationals offensive futility is that most of their everyday players are having good, in some cases very good, seasons. Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are both having near great seasons that have been truncated by repeated trips to the DL. Wilson Ramos has likewise been legitimately great, when he's been healthy enough to play.  Ian Desmond is building on his breakout 2012, and Ryan Zimmerman has been very solid (at least with the bat) all season. Adam LaRoche has unsurprisingly not come close to replicating last season's success, but he hasn't been a drag on the offensive either, apart from his traditional difficulties with left handers, and grounding into a team-leading 11 double plays.

That leaves Espinosa, Span, and the vast airless void that is the Nationals' bench.  Giving 167 plate appearances to Espinosa, he of the 158/193/272 slash line, isn't the sole cause of the team's offensive woes, but it made a significant contribution to the size of the hole. Backup 2B Steve Lombardozzi's 235/247/294 performance didn't exactly cry out for additional playing time either. The promotion of Anthony Rendon seems to have stanched the bleeding for the time being, but real damage was done.

Denard Span's .262 batting average and .319 on base percentage aren't insupportable from a very good defensive center fielder, but they're inexcusable from a leadoff hitter who has accumulated the 2nd most plate appearances on the team. What's more, Span has simply (and suddenly, given his career numbers) been unable to hit left-handed pitching at all this season, but has only recently been platooned versus lefties.

Enough ink has been spilled on the collective troubles of the Nats' bench, so suffice it to say that sacking the lot of them and replacing them with 5 starters from the AAA squad probably wouldn't be a downgrade. There's too much water under the bridge to realistically expect the team to compete either for the division or wild card at this point, but that's no reason not to maximize their offensive potential going forward. With that in mind, a modest lineup reorganization proposal to help the Nationals stop sucking quite so much:

vs. RHP                                     vs. LHP

CF  D. Span                               2B  A. Rendon
RF  J. Werth                               RF  J. Werth
LF  B. Harper                             3B  R. Zimmermann
SS  I. Desmond                           SS  I. Desmond
3B  R. Zimmerman                       C   W. Ramos
1B  A. LaRoche                           LF  S. Hairston
2B  A. Rendon                             CF  B. Harper
C   W. Ramos                              1B  T. Moore

The starters actually hit right-handed pitching pretty well, so the only adjustments to be made would be to get the on-base guys higher in the lineup, and break up the lefties and righties a bit.  The lineup versus right-handers is dangerous, top-to-bottom.  It's pretty clear that the problem comes against left-handed pitching. Span and LaRoche are out entirely, Harper drops way down, and Rendon leads off more or less by default. The middle of the order is solid, but the bottom third has mostly been a black hole this season. Add in the fact that none of the bench bats can be counted on to contribute in key spots, and you get a team that is 3 games under .500 and trending down.

There you have it, a nickel's worth of free advice for new Nationals hitting coach/sacrificial lamb Rick Schu. By the numbers, there's no reason that the Nationals should not have a better than league average offense going forward. Not that that'll be much comfort to the team or its fans, who had such grand dreams for 2013.


DJDave said...

Hey, we're not dead!

Nate said...

No, we're pining for the fjords.

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