Handing out First-Half Awards to the Washington Nationals

Robert WoodCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2013

Handing out First-Half Awards to the Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals have officially completed the first half of their 2013 schedule, having played their 81st game on June 30. 

    But before we start looking ahead to the second half of the season, let's celebrate the first half.

    Here is a list of first-half awards for the Washington Nationals. Like any good baseball list, this one includes nine items. The first several are more traditional awards, and the last few are a bit more irreverent. Enjoy. 

    Note: All statistics updated through July 2 courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise. 

1. Biggest Surprise: Ross Ohlendorf

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    When Ross Ohlendorf signed with Washington in the offseason, no one had any idea he would wind up as the Nationals' biggest surprise as the first half of the season was winding down. Ironically, he may have wound up in that position because of his wind-up.

    For Ohlendorf, his now-famous old-school delivery was developed less for the purposes of pitching and mechanics, and more for the purpose of focus and concentration, as he explained to Dave Jageler of 106.7 The Fan on the Nats' June 14 pre-game show (transcript via Sarah Kogod of The Washington Post):

    I don’t like to think about mechanics a lot, I like to think more about the mindset. As long as I feel like I have the right mindset, I feel like I pitch well. But we kind of came to the conclusion that if I had more movement, my body would figure out the best path to take to throw the ball where I wanted to. So I decided to just try pitching that way. I was a little bit afraid that I might tip my pitches at first, but I’ve not been. It helps me stay loose, helps me have good rhythm. 

    Funny thing is, the wind-up is actually working. 

    Ohlendorf has started one game for the Nats, lasting 6.0 innings on June 12 in Colorado. He surrendered two hits and one earned run while striking out two and walking two. In three total appearances for Washington, Ohlendorf has a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings pitched. The former Princeton Tiger has a .196 batting average against and a 0.87 WHIP. 

    For his otherwise unremarkable career, Ohlendorf is 19-32 with a 5.02 ERA in 454.0 innings pitched over 111 appearances, including 74 starts. He instituted his unique wind-up before this season began, following advice he had received from his pitching coach while with the Pittsburgh Pirates, as he told Jageler (via The Washington Post). 

    Whatever works, Ross.

2. Biggest Disappointment: Danny Espinosa

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    Danny Espinosa was supposed to have a breakout season in 2013, just as his double-play partner Ian Desmond did last season. 

    It has not come to pass. 

    The 26-year-old second baseman is hitting .158 in 158 at-bats over 44 games for the Nats this season. Espinosa has hit nine doubles and three home runs for 43 total bases and a .272 slugging percentage, while driving in 12 runs and scoring 11. He has only four walks versus 47 strikeouts for a .193 on-base percentage and has only one stolen base in one attempt.

    When the Nationals activated Espinosa from the 15-Day DL on June 19, they sent him directly to Triple-A Syracuse, hoping the second baseman would correct his swing, according to Bill Ladson of MLB.com.

    So far, things have actually gotten worse. In 64 at-bats over 19 games, Espinosa is hitting .094 with a .169 on-base percentage and a .125 slugging percentage. Of his six hits, only two were for extra bases, both doubles. Espinosa has three RBI and three runs scored for the Chiefs, with 33 strikeouts and only five walks. 

    With the success of Anthony Rendon at second base, Espinosa's job may not be waiting for him when he returns. But first things first: Danny Espinosa has to earn a promotion to the Washington Nationals. A tall order, indeed. 

3. Best Offseason Acquisition: Denard Span

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    This offseason, the Washington Nationals were looking for a natural center fielder who could also hit leadoff. They traded top pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for Denard Span, hoping he could fulfill both roles. 

    Well, so far Span is hitting .265 in 313 at-bats over 78 games, with a .320 on-base percentage. He has hit 17 doubles and seven triples, driven in 20 runs while scoring 36 and has 24 walks compared to 44 strikeouts. Span is first on the Natonals in triples and stolen bases, second on the team in runs scored, hits and doubles, fourth in walks and sixth in on-base percentage (minimum 100 at-bats). Plus, Span's seven triples rank fourth in the National League. 

    And that's not all. Span has been perfect in center field. He has a 1.000 fielding percentage in 206 total chances, with three assists and a range factor of 2.80. Not surprisingly, Span's fielding percentage is best in the NL, despite having the second-most total chances. Span is tied for sixth in the NL in assists, and his range factor is third best in the Senior Circuit (ESPN.com).  

    So at least this offseason acquisition worked out well for the Nationals. 

4. Worst Offseason Acquisition: Dan Haren

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    The Nationals' other major need this offseason was a fourth starting pitcher to replace Edwin Jackson in the rotation. The Nats signed veteran right-hander Dan Haren to a one-year contract worth $13 million. 

    Mike Rizzo better hope he held on to his receipt. 

    In 15 starts, Haren is 4-9 with a 6.15 ERA in 82.0 innings pitched. Haren has struck out 67 batters versus only 13 walks, but he has surrendered 19 home runs, has a .306 batting average against and a WHIP of 1.44. 

    Among Nationals starters, he has the shortest average length of start in terms of innings pitched at approximately 5.1 innings (minimum 12 starts). 

    Through June 30, Haren ranked first among 50 qualified NL starters in home runs, 50th in batting average against and 45th in WHIP

    It gets worse. Haren's ERA ranked 50th among 50 qualified National League starters, and 97th among 97 qualified MLB starters, through June 30. 

    Haren's on the DL for now. So, at least is ERA can't get any worse.

5. Most Valuable Player: Ian Desmond

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    Ian Desmond is the undisputed MVP of the first half of the Nationals season. 

    Oh? You think that honor should go to someone else? 

    Look at the following major offensive categories. Then, compare the categories in which Desmond leads the team versus the categories in which another player leads the team. Then come back and talk to me. 

    Games 82 First Ian Desmond
    At-Bats 309 Second Denard Span
    Runs 36 Second Adam LaRoche
    Hits 85 First Ian Desmond
    Doubles 22 First Ian Desmond
    Triples 2 Second Denard Span
    Home Runs 15 First Ian Desmond
    RBI 49 First Ian Desmond
    Stolen Bases 8 First Ian Desmond
    Average * .275 Fourth Anthony Rendon
    OBP * .313 Seventh Bryce Harper
    SLG * .505 Second Bryce Harper
    OPS * .818 Third Bryce Harper

    * Minimum 100 At-Bats

    See what I mean? 

    Of course, if Desmond did not lead the team in games played, then the voting for this award probably would have turned out differently. It's difficult to accrue offensive statistics when you're not actually playing. 

6. "Vulture": Tyler Clippard

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    In baseball, a "vulture win" can be described with the following definition, as found on Everything2.com:

    In baseball, a loose term for a relief pitcher getting credited with a Win that he doesn't seem to deserve...the thing about the Vulture Win is that the pitcher basically lucked into it. It's even worse if he gives up a ton of runs but gets the win anyway—this happens a lot to closers who blow their save opportunities. 

    By extension, the "vulture" of each pitching staff is the pitcher who swoops in to grab the most vulture wins.

    For the 2013 Washington Nationals, that pitcher is Tyler Clippard. The bespectacled reliever has a 23.1 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched over 35 appearances with 35 strikeouts and 15 walks, while yielding 19 hits, three home runs and a .161 batting average against.

    More importantly, Clippard has a record of 6-1. No other Nationals reliever has more than four wins. Plus, Clippard has more wins than every starter except Jordan Zimmermann.

    But there is some honor to being a vulture, as explained by David Young of ESPN.com:

    Vulture wins are a function of opportunity, both in being the pitcher of record when a team takes the lead and of the team's ability to take that lead. While there's an element of luck involved—being in the right place at the right time—there's also an element dependent on having enough talent to merit a manager's faith to take the mound in potential vulture situations.

    So the next time Davey Johnson wants to signal to the bullpen for Tyler Clippard, instead of signaling with his right arm Johnson can simply stick out his arms like vulture wings and fly around in a circle.

7. Most Phenomenal Rookie Hazing: Rendon's Mullet

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    Is that roadkill on Anthony Rendon's head? 

    Close, but no. 

    Let Rendon himself explain his do, from this June 16 interview with Julie Alexandria of MASN (transcript via Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post): 

    Alexandria: Now a lot of people are crediting your good luck, your good fortune, your home run to that haircut.

    Rendon: Yeah, it’s kind of phenomenal. I’m not gonna lie about it. Rochie did a good little artwork on it, and then I had Henry clean it up, make it actually look like a good haircut, a decent haircut, at least. I guess it got me a little bit of power.

    Alexandria: So what started out as a little rookie hazing haircut turned into something pretty big for you?

    Rendon: Yeah. I’m thinking I might keep it. It’s actually now a stylish little thing. Like, they brought back the mohawk a couple years ago; I might bring back the mullet.

    Alexandria: You know, people on Twitter are calling it a Rally Mullet, they’re calling you Anthony Dirt. What do you think about all these new names?

    Rendon: Hey, that’s fine with me. I mean, I guess that’s a good thing, if they’re talking about it. I think I’ll keep it for a little while. 

    The veterans on this team wouldn't let the rook cut it off even if he wanted to. 

8. Best Clubhouse Prank: McCatty's Indelible Image

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    Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty tends to talk a bit of trash to his pitchers. So he should have expected payback sooner or later. Especially when members of his pitching staff found out that he posed in Playgirl in 1984 while a member of the Oakland Athletics, along with other major leaguers, according to David Brown of Yahoo! Sports

    How in the name of Jim Palmer's jockeys did the Nationals find out about that

    I wish you hadn't asked. But since you did, I'll tell you. Baseball Prospectus guest contributor Michael Clair had written a column on May 21 about these centerfolds in center field. Someone on the Nationals pitching staff stumbled across this stimulating article and word spread like wildfire. 

    Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post tweeted what happened next: 

    And here, in all its glory, is the T-shirt in question, as tweeted by MLB Fan Cave: 



    Take a look. Soak it in. Although I completely understand if you look away in horror. 

9. Most Graphic Rallying Cry: "Eat Face"

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    Jayson Werth is one of the team leaders on the Washington Nationals. So it should come as no surprise that he authored the team's rallying cry for 2013. 

    On June 19, the Nats recorded their second sraight loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, which marked the team's 17th loss in 28 games on their 2013 schedule. Werth talked to James Wagner of The Washington Post about the attitude and intensity the team would need to pull out of their slump: 

    Jayson Werth certainly hasn't lost confidence or resolve: "We gotta show up tomorrow ready to eat somebody's face."

    The Nats followed Werth's orders, winning 6-2 in 11 innings. Werth himself played a huge role, hitting two one-run singles, including one with two outs in the ninth to tie the game.

    Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post seized the moment as he reported the outcome of the game: 


    The print headline for this game story: "Nats save face with win." http://t.co/xhytirRX9o

    This rallying cry is catching on, in spite of or perhaps because of its offbeat nature. If you don't believe me, log on to Twitter and search for #EatFace. Among those tweets, you'll find members of the Washington Nationals (Ian Desmond and Ryan Mattheus, to name two), MASN's color analyst (FP Santangelo), a CNN political correspondent (Jim Acosta) and yes, even me

    Meanwhile, the geniuses at MLB Fan Cave enhanced the experience for everyone: 

    blockquote class="twitter-tweet">

    A movie for @Nationals fans. #EatFace pic.twitter.com/fnPbC3v5WZ

    — MLB Fan Cave (@MLBFanCave) June 24, 2013


    With the entire second half of the season ahead of them, the Nats have a lot of face to eat. It may seem that Washington has bit off more than it can chew, but the team is still hungry for success.