The Washington Nationals, who were apparently jinxed by every sportswriter in America who picked them to win 120 games and the World Series this year, were eliminated from playoff contention yesterday. The Nats played well down the stretch, but unfortunately couldn’t overcome their dreadful April through June.
Despite the fact that just about everyone except for Bobby Cox picked the Nationals to win the NL East, the Nationals will not win 90 games this year. So what went wrong?
Well, there was a wall in L.A. that literally hurt, Adam LaRoche happened, so did Danny Espinosa and Denard Span. Dan Haren was pretty much a dumpster fire with the exception of a few weeks in August and a few more in September. Ross Detwiler got hurt, but so did Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. Even with all of that bad luck, the Nats still finished with a winning record and will likely only miss the playoffs by a few games.
While the bad luck of injuries stings, it doesn’t sting nearly as much as the results of bad decision making. This offseason, Mike Rizzo decided it would be a good idea to trade a blue chip pitching prospect for a leadoff hitter because regardless of what Tom Tango and all of his silly numbers say, teams need someone to bat first who lacks power and has speed. Even after his remarkable 29 game hitting streak helped salvage his season, Denard Span will finish the year with a wOBA around .315 and an OPS barely over .700.
Now some might say that wOBA, OPS and other Sabermetric statistics are just ways for nerds to feel superior to those who “actually played the game,” and they’d be right, but it doesn’t mean that the nerd’s statistics are any less valid or that those who actually played baseball, even Major League Baseball, haven’t adopted many of these new fangled stats.
wOBA was developed by Tom Tango and is based on the premise that not all hits are created equal and getting on base–or rather not making an out–is even more important than how many hits you get. An average wOBA is typically around .320. Adam LaRoche will finish the season with a wOBA right around .320. First basemen are not supposed to be average hitters. The Nats could upgrade both 1B and CF in the offseason, but they probably won’t. In Span’s case, they won’t upgrade because apparently Mike Rizzo’s Jr. High Algebra teacher embarrassed him daily and instilled him a hatred for math that leads him to believe that Span is above average. So whoever you are, I hope you and all 10 of your cats are happy.
In LaRoche’s case an upgrade is unlikely because there may not be one available on the open market. The upcoming free agent first basemen pool looks like an orthopedic surgeon’s client list with names like Kendrys Morales, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Napoli being the most attractive options.
For those who get excited about teams acquiring new managers you’re in luck, for those who don’t think managers have that big of an impact too bad. The Nats are unlikely to upgrade the offense, although it should be helped by full seasons of Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos to go along with a full year of the “Rally Mullet” Anthony Rendon who figures to be improved after seeing lots of big league pitching. Pretty much the Nats only likely acquisition is a 5th starter to replace Dan Haren. A lackluster year is all set to be followed by perhaps the most uneventful off-season in Nationals history. Oh well, only about 140 days until pitchers and catchers report.