Monday, August 3, 2009

"It knew it was going to be bad when I was nominated. I did not know it would be this bad."

That quote from Gutter's Senate hearings in PCU more or less sums up today's findings.

Dave from NNN alerted me to the Nats struggles with runners on last week, but today Chico laid it all out.

The Nats flat out do not hit with runners on. Some of it is bad luck, hitting line drives at people, but every team has a little of that. The Nats struggle the most in the following three areas:

* picked off/caught stealing

* Ground into double plays

* Called third strikes

First, it should be noted that these are execution issues. Nobody needs to have the God given physical tools of... (searching for a player who used his God given tools without chemically enhancing them)... Tony Gwynn to avoid those three bullet points above.

The Nats get picked off way more often than they should, and this is particularly disconcerting considering they just started giving base runners the green light upon the arrival of Nyjer Morgan. Before you say that this doesn't affect their poor hitting in the clutch, getting picked off first does change the dynamics of the at bat if there is less than two outs, and if there is two outs, well, phooey. The Nats have stolen 46 bases and been caught 26 times, a sterling 63.8% success rate. The NL average is 71.4% on 17% more attempt. As you have witnessed, the Nats have been killing many rallies before the hitter has a chance to do anything about it.

The Nats ground into 16% more double plays than the league average. Right now, that is playing to about one per week. It may not seem like much, but when Zimm and Kearns reach for those fastballs low and away, they kill any chance for a big inning. One more big inning per week probably adds 6-10 wins to the season total. Both Zimm and Kearns started the season driving the ball into the air, but each hit mid-season (or in Kearns case, mid-career) slumps. Zimm has been hitting better of late, but once again has aspirations of leading the league. Simple situational hitting teaches batters how to avoid these by laying off and going the other way. Wil Nieves doesn't hit the ball more than 200 feet, but rarely puts himself into a 6-4-3 because he will hit opposite field on balls pitched to the outer half.

The Nats are fourth in the NL with 795 strikeouts. They parlay this by drawing the second most walks in the NL. They are a patient team, which gets a lot of runners on first base, and is reflected in their team OBP. However, the Nats take take 30% of their overall strikeouts looking, which of course leads the league. Adam Dunn is one of the main culprits, as he lays back and waits for a mistake to crush. But this doesn't excuse the number of other hitters for not playing more aggressively with two strikes. The Nats have worked the pitch count well this season (2nd in pitches per PA in the NL) but this is not helping them with runners in scoring position and the pitcher attacking the zone to prevent walking in the run.

Points two and three may contradict slightly, as being passive may lead to more strikeouts looking, while a more aggressive approach may lead to more double plays. Other successful teams find a balance, or lean to one extreme or the other. The Nats somehow play both extremes, which is a recipe for losing baseball.

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