Washington Nationals: 5 Flaws Already Being Exposed

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IApril 23, 2013

Washington Nationals: 5 Flaws Already Being Exposed

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    The Washington Nationals are 10-9 through Monday's games. They are 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East.

    Yes, it is still early. But there are specific issues that have directly led to the Nationals' record, and these issues need to be addressed.

    Here are five flaws of the Washington Nationals that are already being exposed.

    Note: All statistics updated through April 22 and courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

5. E5

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    Ryan Zimmerman had shoulder surgery during the offseason, which was supposed to eliminate his throwing problems. But if the first three weeks are an indication, the surgery was a failure.

    Zimmerman has a .905 fielding percentage through 15 games. His career average is .958. And Zimmerman's four errors lead all MLB third basemen. 

    Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com summarized the severity of the problem facing the 2009 NL Gold Glove winner (Baseball Reference):

    "Zimmerman has four errors, all throwing, all in the last week. His errors have led to seven unearned runs and have contributed to three losses (including two to the rival Braves)."

    But as Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington tweeted on April 17, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson is not panicking:

    This problem might be temporarily solved with the call-up of Anthony Rendon, who debuted once Zimmerman was placed on the 15-day DL for an unrelated injury. Baseball America rates Rendon as the Nationals' top prospect as well as the "best defensive infielder" in the organization's farm system.

4. E6, Etc.

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    As if the Nationals' defensive issues at third base weren't bad enough, shortstop has been even worse.

    Ian Desmond has seven errors through 18 games.

    That is the most errors among all MLB shortstops.

    However, Desmond is not too concerned with his defensive performance at this early point of the season.

    On April 22, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post tweeted a quote by Desmond reflecting that sentiment

    Perhaps Desmond should be concerned as his defensive deficiencies are apparently contagious. The Nats are last in the entire league with 18 errors.

    What was a strength in 2012 is now a glaring weakness for Washington.

3. Strasburg Yet to Dominate

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    Stephen Strasburg has not been his usual dominant self this season.

    Through four starts, Strasburg is 1-3 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. The 24-year-old has allowed 22 hits and three home runs. He has 21 strikeouts and seven walks as opponents are batting .227.

    On April 20, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post gave a more detailed analysis of Strasburg's struggles:

    "Inefficiency is what has held him back. He has thrown a first-pitch strike to 56.2 percent of the hitters he’s faced, which ranks 73rd among 99 qualified starting pitchers. He has gone to three-ball counts against 18 of 79 hitters. He has thrown 17.1 pitches per inning, 21st in the majors among starters, and that includes his seven-inning, 80-pitch monument to efficiency on opening day. He is searching for how to fix it."

    Strasburg was much less analytical when trying to explain the issue to Kilgore, but he was perplexed nonetheless.

    "I really couldn’t say. It’s such a feel thing for me when I go out there. It feels right, and you repeat it. Right now, I’m just breaking down on some pitches as far as mechanics. I just need to keep working hard. I know that it’s going to get better."

    The Nationals hope it gets better soon.

2. Harassed and Haren-gued

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    Dan Haren has been a bust as the Washington Nationals' fourth starter.

    The 11-year veteran has a 1-3 record in four starts. That record isn't horrible, considering Ross Detwiler is 0-1 with a 0.90 ERA and Strasburg is 1-3 with a 2.92 ERA.

    But Haren does not have a 0.90 ERA or even a 2.92 ERA. 

    No, Haren has a 7.36 ERA. Yes, you read that right.

    And a deeper look into his 2013 statistics does not paint a brighter picture.

    Haren has surrendered five home runs, and opponents are hitting .368. His 1.96 WHIP is 0.77 higher than his career average.

    Haren has pitched 18.1 innings this season, never lasting past the fifth inning. Plus, Haren has already thrown 370 pitches. That averages to 92.5 pitches per start or 20.2 pitches per inning. That is the model of inefficiency.

    One final statistic to put Haren's struggles in perspective: The Nationals are paying him $13 million this season.

1. Relief Corps Offering No Relief

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    What a difference a year makes.

    The 2012 Nationals had the seventh-best bullpen ERA at 3.23 and finished 98-64 for the best record in baseball.

    The 2013 Nationals have the 26th-best bullpen ERA at 5.04 and are 10-9, tied for second-best record in the NL East.

    One look at the individual ERAs of the Nationals' relievers and you'll see that the relief corps' struggles have been a collective effort:

    1. 4.15 ERA: Craig Stammen
    2. 4.26 ERA: Henry Rodriguez
    3. 4.32 ERA: Ryan Mattheus
    4. 4.50 ERA: Rafael Soriano
    5. 4.50 ERA: Tyler Clippard
    6. 6.52 ERA: Zach Duke
    7. 7.11 ERA: Drew Storen

    It's no coincidence that the 2012 Nationals had the best record in baseball with such a dominant bullpen. If the 2013 Nationals want to reach the same heights, their bullpen needs to dramatically improve.

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