Washington Nationals' Batting Review (Part One): The Big Picture

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Washington Nationals' Batting Review (Part One): The Big Picture
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Washington Nationals' season is one-sixth complete.  I know that sounds funny to say, but it's true.  The team has played 27 games so far, which is one-sixth of 162.  So how does the team stand?

Well, to listen to the national media or bloggers looking for cheap web page hits, the Nats are a laughingstock.  But how true is that?

The starting pitching leaves much to be desired.  Any staff that's counting on two rookies and Daniel Cabrera can not be considered good.  And the bullpen has been every bit as bad as advertised. 

But the Nats' front office shipped out a bunch of not-ready-for-prime-time players (Shell, Bergmann, Ledezma) in exchange for some of the more "grizzled" veterans around (Tavarez, Villone, Wells), so maybe that will help.

But let's take a look at the Nationals' batting lineup.

As a team, the Nats are hitting .275, with an on-base percentage of .363 and slugging .427.  They are tied for third in the league in average, third in on-base percentage and sixth in slugging.

Remember, this is a team whose home run leader hit 14 last season. It's a huge jump in the slugging department.

What's the big difference?  Patience.  Washington in second in the league in unintentional walks.

However, the Nats are only seventh in the league in runs scored so far.  What's the discrepancy?  They are second in the league in runners left on base.  Will they get better at driving in runs?  Will the runners still be on base to drive in?  Interesting questions, all.

Washington leads the N.L. in BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play.  Basically, this number tells us how effectively the defense turns batted balls into out.  League average so far this season is .295, which is fairly typical of historical averages. 

The Nats' BABIP is currently an unsustainable .331.  Only the Los Angeles Dodgers join the Nats in a BABIP more than .010 higher than average.

OPS+, On-base percentage Plus Slugging (Adjusted), is an equation that lets us compare apples-to-apples, adjusting a team's (or player's) OPS to a ballpark-neutral figure we can compare to others.  Currently, Washington sports an OPS+ of 105, tied for fifth-highest in the league.

Offensive Winning Percentage (OWn%) tells us what the team's winning percentage should be based on its offensive production.  The Nats number so far is .574, which translates to a record of 15.5-11.5.  The Nats' actual record after 27 games:  8-18-1.  That's how bad the pitching staff has been.

Want to look at individual players to see if their early-season success is sustainable?  Thought you'd never ask.

For the traditionalists, seven of the eight Nationals plate appearance leaders (the "regulars":  Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Jesus Flores and Anderson Hernandez), have a batting average higher than .290, with five over .300, led by Cristian Guzman's .392, which would lead the league if he had about 12 more plate appearances.

Every single one of the regulars boast an on-base percentage over .370.  How outstanding is that, you may ask?  There are only 40 National League players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title with an on-base percentage of .370 or better.

Seven of the eight regulars have a slugging percentage (total bases per at bat) higher than .430.  Washington has four of the top 32 qualifiers in the league in slugging.

Is this sustainable?

In part two, we'll examine each of the regulars, compare their 2009 start to their career numbers, and take a look at some trusted projections to try to answer that very question.

Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference.com.

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