Things to Know about the Washington Nationals

The Mets head down to D.C. this weekend to play a three-game set against the Nationals. Here are some things you might want to know about them:

Record: 49-55, last place NL East
Manager: Davey Johnson, lifetime 1,157-904 managerial record, AL Manager of the Year in 1997. Mets fans from the 1980s know all about the winningest manager in franchise history. Strategy-wise, Johnson uses the sacrifice at an average rate, though more or less eschews the intentional walk – at least he did a decade ago in Los Angeles. I’m not so sure about his style is today.
Park: Nationals Park. A park that favor neither pitchers nor hitters, thought it’s kinder to lefthanded batters than right.

Quickly . . .
Can they hit? No
Can they pitch? A little bit
Can they field? Somewhat
Who’s their best player? Let’s say Jordan Zimmermann, Sunday’s starter. Finally healthy and on his way to a full season, Zimmermann has a 3.27 ERA with 92 strikeouts against 21 walks on the year. He’s 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in July, but with 21 strikeouts against one walk in 27 innings – I’m going to guess that ERA is more on the fielders than him.

Lineup:
CF – Roger Bernadina – L
2B – Danny Espinosa – S
3B – Ryan Zimmerman – R
1B – Michael Morse – R
RF – Jayson Werth – R
LF – Laynce Nix – L
C – Wilson Ramos – R
SS – Ian Desmond – R

Here’s a fun one: Nationals leadoff hitters are batting .195/.266/.299 with 49 runs scored this season. Every single one of those numbers is the worst mark in the league for a team’s leadoff hitters. Then consider that Nationals #2 hitters are batting .231/.292/.328 with 41 runs scored, which is good for the third-worst OPS and the lowest number of runs scored among #2 hitters. Combined, the Nationals’ #1-2 hitters are last in the league in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and runs scored. Most of the damage has been done by Roger Bernadina, who has been terrible on top of the lineup, and Danny Espinosa, who is having a good rookie season but has only produced batting lower in the order. The struggle atop the lineup is one reason the Nationals aren’t scoring runs – no one is getting on base ahead of the big hitters, and the Nats are second-to-last in the NL in average and second-to-last in on-base percentage.

But the other reason they don’t score many runs is that the big hitters have been terrible and probably wouldn’t drive anyone in anyway. Jayson Werth is batting .169 with three home runs and a .579 OPS since June began. Ryan Zimmerman has a .683 OPS and four home runs since returning from the DL in mid-June. On the other hand, Michael Morse has completely turned his season around, posting a 1.020 OPS and 16 home runs over the past three months. But he’s just one guy, and that’s not enough.

Pitching Matchups:

July 29: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (0-0, – ERA) vs RHP Dillon Gee (9-3, 3.75 ERA)

Wang last pitched in the major leagues July 4, 2009. Two years later, coming off the same shoulder surgery Johan Santana underwent, he’ll finally make another start in the major leagues tonight. Wang was a sinker-slider, contact reliant pitcher with more hits than innings pitched and a very low strikeout rate before his injury. The reports are that his velocity was down 3-5 MPH in his minor league rehab starts, and it should be interesting to see if and how he adjusts to pitching with reduced stuff.

July 30: LHP Jason Marquis (8-5, 3.95 ERA) vs RHP R.A. Dickey (5-8, 3.74 ERA)

Is it just me, or do bad teams have more sinkerball pitchers than good teams? I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems like it. Anyway, Marquis is another sinker-slider, low-strikeout type on a staff full of them. He’s in the middle of a decent year, setting career lows in walk rate, home run rate, and fielding independent pitching (FIP), though his ERA is still a tick below average.

July 31: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (6-9, 3.27 ERA) vs LHP Jon Niese (10-8, 3.97 ERA)

The NL strikeout-to-walk leaders this season:

  • 1. Roy Halladay – 7.74
  • 2. Cliff Lee – 4.93
  • 3. Cole Hamels – 4.67
  • 4. Jordan Zimmermann – 4.38
  • 5. Clayton Kershaw – 4.33

The Mets miss LHP John Lannan and RHP Livan Hernandez

Bench:
C – Jesus Flores – R
IF – Alex Cora – L
IF – Jerry Hairston – R
OF – Rick Ankiel – L
OF – Jonny Gomes – R

The Nationals are in last place, and they just traded for Jonny Gomes. They sent the Reds a 26-year-old Double-A slugger . . . and Chris Manno, a 22-year-old reliever striking out 14 batters per nine innings in A-ball. Gomes is a legit lefty masher, but I don’t know why a last place team is worried about acquiring lefty mashers and giving up promising relievers. It’s like buying a pair of shiny, spinning rims to put on the front wheels your 1989 Volvo station wagon. There’s no good reason to do it.

Bullpen:
RHP – Drew Storen
RHP – Tyler Clippard
LHP – Sean Burnett
RHP – Ryan Mattheus
RHP – Henry Rodriguez
RHP – Todd Coffey
LHP – Tom Gorzelanny

The Nationals bullpen is sixth in the league in ERA despite a high walk rate and 21 blown saves, the most blown saves in the majors. But whatever. Let’s talk about Tyler Clippard, the NL’s strangest reliever:

  • He has allowed 11 runs this season. They’ve all scored via the home run – six solo shots, a two-run home run and a three-run home run. He’s the only pitcher in the majors who has allowed all his runs via home runs.
  • Over 80% of balls put in play against him are hit in the air, an extremely high rate, the highest in the NL. Fly balls in play are caught more often ground balls in play, and Clippard’s .190 batting average against on balls in play, the second lowest in the league, reflects this somewhat. His BABIP against is probably going to go up, but I don’t know how far up. He’s a freak.
  • By Fangraphs’ count, Clippard has generated 19 infield pop ups. Combined with his 73 strikeouts, 42% of the batters that have faced Clippard this season have failed to make enough contact to hit the ball out of the infield. I think this is the best rate in the majors for strikeouts-plus-popups, both of which turn into outs about 99% of the time.
  • His 17.4% swinging strike percentage is the highest in the majors by a decent margin. Batters swing and miss at his stuff more than any other pitcher.

I don’t know if this means Tyler Clippard is a good pitcher, but he’s certainly a unique pitcher.

And those were some things to know about the Washington Nationals.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Things to Know about the Washington Nationals

  1. On a fun side-note, Todd Coffey enters games to the Ultimate Warrior’s entrance music, “sprinting” in while the scoreboard times his run. And this can be quite amusing.

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