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Washington Nationals: Better Than Their Record?

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 13:  National League All-Star Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals looks on during the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at Busch Stadium on July 13, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Dave NicholsSenior Analyst IJuly 17, 2009
"The Nats should be better than their record."
That's a quote I read and hear a lot in NatsTown. But is it the truth?
Incoming manager Jim Riggleman professed to thinking so. In his introductory press conference, he made some very similar statements.
"...sooner or later this talent that we have is going to surface and we will get the results that we want to produce."
"We just have to just keep hitting ground balls and take fly balls—eventually that work is going to pay off."
"We just have got to continue to work and I don’t think there is a—'what if we don’t.' I just know that we will.”
Mike Rizzo, in his statements to the press after the firing of Manny Acta said as much as well. "...we kept thinking that this was going to turn around. We were going to start playing better. And we have always continued to underachieve in my opinion."
But is this team underachieving? The stats say no. The stats say this team is just bad.
Most runs allowed per game at 5.62. There's only one other team (the Padres) over 5.00, and the Nats are over five and a half runs per game.
Last in the NL in overall ERA. Last in walks per nine innings. Next to last in strikeouts per nine innings.
Should we talk about the bullpen? Last in saves. Most blown saves. Twelfth in holds. Most in inherited runners. Second highest percentage of inherited runners scored. Fewest wins in relief with eight. Most losses in relief with 30. Second has just 17.
The offense is eighth in the league in runs per game, second in on-base percentage, and sixth in slugging percentage, but the slugging drops 30 points with men on base. They have grounded into the fourth highest number of double plays, and are 14th in sacrifice hits and 15th in sacrifice flies.
The batters also are getting "lucky". The collective batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .313, second highest in the league. This is a measure of how often batted balls go for hits. League average is .296, and though that doesn't sound like much, as the Nats regress to the mean, they'll be collecting fewer hits and the on-base percentage—and RBI—will drop.
And since they already do a poor job of converting base runners into runs, fewer runners will mean fewer runs. Which means, possibly, fewer wins, if the pitching doesn't miraculously get better.
And what can we say about the defense that hasn't already been said? Most errors in the league by four over Arizona...but the team in third has 23 fewer errors. Dead last in fielding percentage. Dead last in percentage of balls in play turned into outs. Twelfth in double plays.
To listen to some folks, it's just a matter of "attitude." The players need some motivation, they weren't getting it from Acta, and Riggleman will give them some discipline and things will turn around.
Other than Ryan Zimmerman's comments, can anyone point me to any evidence that this is even remotely true?
Ryan talks about "accountability," apparently because he, and a couple others, thought Lastings Milledge should have been benched because he skipped out on the team meeting the day before the season started.
OK, Ryan. You want accountability?
How about you take a couple days off to think about your throwing problems, which cost the team another run last night. Your 14 errors are tied for second in the N.L. Not just for third basemen, for everybody. Your fielding percentage for third basemen is third worst of anyone with 50 or more games played.
People like to think of you as a Gold Glove caliber third baseman "if he could solve his throwing problem." You know what? You haven't. You make the spectacular look easy, and the easy look horrific.
Maybe you need to clear your head to solve your hitting woes, D.C.'s dark little secret right now.
Your all-star appearance might have persuaded some to look the other way, but since May 17, the day your averages were the highest all season at .364/.418/.623, you've been hitting a robust .228/.303/.365. In 221 plate appearances, you've been far, far below replacement value, especially considering you've been hitting in the third spot in the lineup every day.
In fact, you are the only batter on the team that hasn't been slotted in a different spot in the lineup so far.
There's your accountability, Ryan.
You want to talk about players "underachieving"? Let's start with the Face of the Franchise.

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