Inside the Numbers: Why are the Washington Nationals so bad?

washington nationalsRemember back when the Washington Nationals were a preseason co-favorite in the National League East?

It’s not even June, and writers are penning pieces about how the Nats might be on the verge of a fire sale, currently sitting at 23-32, nine and a half games back of Philadelphia in the East, and tied for the second-most losses in the league.

No, it has nothing to do with losing Bryce Harper (and his .232/.357/.449 slash line, and 0.6 WAR, in Philly, through 54 games).

Yes, there have been injuries (Trea Turner has missed 39 games, Ryan Zimmerman 33, Anthony Rendon 13).

Max Scherzer is 2-5 with 3.26 ERA, a year after going 18-7 with a 2.53 ERA, but his underlying numbers are solid (138 ERA+, 2.30 FIP, actually down from last year’s 2.65).

Stephen Strasburg is closer to the guy that you expect Stephen Strasburg to be (5-2, 3.19 ERA, 141 ERA+, 2.66 FIP).

And Patrick Corbin is an obvious upgrade at the #3 starter slot compared to Gio Gonzalez (Corbin is 5-2 with a 2.85 ERA, 158 ERA+ and 3.31 FIP; Gonzalez was 7-11 in 2018 with a 4.57 ERA, 92 ERA+ and 4.25 FIP).

So, what are the issues?

Generally, productivity on offense, and the bullpen.

First, to the offense. The Nats as a team are slashing .249/.323/.414 in 2019, down from .254/.335/.419 a year ago, and the runs per game numbers are also down – from 4.76 runs per game in 2018 to 4.58 runs per game in 2019.

The pitching side, on the whole, is far diminished, with the team ERA up from 4.04 in 2018 to 4.88 at this point in 2019. ERA+ is down to 93 this season, from 105 last season (not a good thing; basically, the Nats are ERA-), though FIP is down slightly, from 4.15 in 2018 to 4.10 this season (this is a good thing).

The starters, as I’ve detailed, are on the whole a little better, which means the pen has been awful, which you knew by turning on MASN any given night.

Sean Doolittle, the closer, is still serviceable – 3-1, 3.52 ERA, 10 saves in 12 chances, but his WHIP is a ghastly (for a closer) 1.39, more than double the 0.60 WHIP he had in 2018 (when he had a 1.60 ERA, a massive 264 ERA+, and a miniscule 1.89 FIP).

Matt Grace has deteriorated rapidly, with a 7.54 ERA/60 ERA+/5.59 FIP slash line, after posting a 2.87 ERA/147 ERA+/3.40 FIP in 56 appearances in 2018.

Also dishing up the meatballs this season: Wander Suero (1-4, 6.85 ERA/67 ERA+/3.34 FIP), Kyle Barralough (1-2, 5.48 ERA/83 ERA+/5.56 FIP), and, well, everybody else.

Here’s how bad it is, the bullpen: the Nats are 29th (better than only Baltimore) in opponent runs per game in the last four innings (2.62), dropping to 30th in the last three innings (2.09), and also 30th in the last two (1.53).

In addition to the talk about a fire sale, there’s been plenty of talk about the future of manager Davey Martinez, for supposedly mismanaging a division co-favorite into Miami Marlins territory.

How about putting some heat on general manager Mike Rizzo, for putting together the worst bullpen in MLB and thinking he could still somehow get into the playoffs?

Analysis by Chris Graham

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