Saturday, September 10, 2005

Un Nat-ural
By Ben Valentine

Sometimes in life it really is better to be lucky than good. Just ask the Washington Nationals.

The former Montreal Expos currently sit 3 games out of a playoff spot. It’s the closest they’ve been to postseason play this late since… well I can’t remember when. (The season was toast by this point in 1994) I don’t think they’ll make it, but it’s remarkable they’re even here in the first place. ESPN's standings have their current expected win loss total at 66-75. In short, it's because they’ve allowed more runs than they’ve scored this year. That’s right. The Nats have been outscored by their opponents this season.

Their offense is by far the worst in the NL. No one is hitting over .300. The best player in it, Jose Guillen, has just three home runs at home this year. No regular outside of Guillen has even hit 15 total this season. Forget about 100 RBI… Guillen is the current leader at 72. This is team that has been starting a guy hitting below the Mendoza line in Christian Guzman. Nick Johnson and Preston Wilson are decent players, but overall the lineup is a really bad joke.

You’d figure the pitching would have to be golden for this team to be where it is. But ironically, outside of John Patterson, who’s just 8-5 (despite starting 27 games and posting a 2.79 ERA), the rotation has been pretty mediocre. Esteban Loiza is 10-10, 3.62, Livan Hernandez is 15-6, 3.80, Tony Armas 7-7, 4.97 and Ryan Drese was 3-6, 4.98 before going down to injury. The bullpen has been great, led by closer Chad Cordero’s 48 saves and 1.30 ERA. Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski, Hector Carrasco and Joey Eischen have all done yeoman’s work out of the pen. But considering the relatively mediocre starting pitching (taking into consideration the extreme pitcher's advantage at RFK stadium, the Nats' home park), that shouldn’t be enough to overcome their complete lack of offense.

Could it be the manager? I doubt it. While I haven’t seen enough of the Nationals to know whether Frank Robinson is a genius, one has to wonder what the hell he was thinking a few nights ago, when he yanked starters on consecutive days, one in the 4th inning after allowing 3 runs and the other in the 1st after allowing just one run. (They lost both games) Besides, was Robinson a genius last year when the Expos were one of baseball’s worst teams? This essentially is the same team, with the exception of Esteban Loiaza and Preston Wilson. (And Wilson was a mid season acquisition)

The Nationals were one of baseball’s best teams in one run games earlier this year. But that has evened out. They’re now 29-27 in those games, where luck usually has more than anything else to do with the outcome. So while it explained their earlier success, it does not explain why the team is still around, especially since they’ve been very bad in one run games in the second half.

So I ask you, how are the Nationals three games out when the Mets, who have an expected win loss total at this point of 78-62 (they’ve done a good job of outscoring their opponents this year), are 70-71?. In fact, the Mets and Nationals are two of five NL teams that’s W/L record differs more than three games from their expected W/L. (The Diamondbacks (+9 better), Brewers (-4 worse) and Padres (+4) are the others) Only the Diamondbacks have a greater discrepancy than the Mets and Nats. Just as another note, a team that has the roughly the same expected W/L as the Nationals are Zach's own Seattle Mariners, 66-73, and they're not exactly competing for a postseason spot right now.

Somehow, it appears the Nationals have hijacked the Mets won/loss record. I’m not sure how they did it. Are the Nats a better team than the Mets? Nope. They have less talent and haven’t played as well as the Mets have. But today, they have a realistic chance at the playoffs. The Mets do not.

The Nationals are a bad baseball team. Unless they do something to drastically improve their offense and get another starter, their record next season will most likely indicate that. But seems like right now that doesn’t matter.

And that is why ladies and gentlemen, sometimes, it really is better to be lucky, rather than good.


Blogger RotoAuthority said...

The Nationals are definitely a bizarre case of luck. But I think their starting pitching can be considered better than mediocre. As we've discussed Patterson has become an ace this year. With Livan at #2 and Loiaza at #3, that's a sweet trio.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

I thought so at first too, but then I looked at the numbers. Living Large has a 1.461 WHIP this year. His strikeouts are way down (he's k'd only 127 this year, opposed to 186 and 178 the last two). His numbers this year far more closely resemble his terrible 2001 and 2002 in SF than his last two good years.

Loaiza has been better, with 151 ks and 54 walks in 190 innings. But he's posted a 1.316 WHIP. For him, that's pretty good. But ultimately the Nats have one great starter in Patterson, one above average one in Loiaza, a mediocre one in Hernandez and two bad ones in Armas Jr. and whoever's in the fifth slot the rest of the way.

Every time I look at them, I'm more amazed this team is anywhere close to .500, let alone over it.

12:06 AM  

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