Season in Review: Washington Nationals

A continuation of the series of retrospectives looking back at the regular season and how teams fared. They will be presented, from first to last, in order of their run differential as given by the BaseRuns formula and adjusted for strength of schedule, which I feel is the best measurement of a team’s actual talent level.

Number Thirty: Washington Nationals

And so we come to the end and with little fanfare and even less surprise, we finish off our run of reviews with the Washington Nationals. It may not be surprising that the Nats finished last, but it was closer than you probably thought. Going by straight BaseRuns differential, the Pirates actually finished worse than Washington by a full win, 62.5 to 63.5. However, Pittsburgh had some mildly stiff competition in the NL Central while the Nats faced a weaker overall schedule and there was enough of a spread to help push the Nationals back into the bottom slot.

Washington finished dead last in scoring according to BaseRuns, accruing just 639 runs against 808 runs allowed, which was actually good (bad?) enough to rank 24th overall, though given that they’re a National League team, that’s still pretty bad. Only two other teams in the league (the Reds and the Pirates) were slated to have allowed more. What might be horrifying is that these Nats were all together a better group of players than last year’s version.

Last year, the Nationals defense finished 17th overall according to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus ranking. This year, they improved by 42 plays and ten slots, coming in 7th with almost the entire difference coming out of the middle infield. The return of Cristian Guzman meant that Felipe Lopez could be moved back off shortstop, which helped to solidify the team up the middle. Though perhaps they should have just ditched Lopez on another team sooner as his offense wasn’t up to par while Belliard continued to be adequate at the plate. Guzman even finally put together a respectable season in the final year of his heavily-mocked four-year deal. Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young had too brief roles in the 2008 team, but both were positive in nature and newcomer Elijah Dukes chipped in as well.

The one area that the Nationals did falter in 2008 was in the bullpen. Last year they received an astounding amount of support from the duo of Jon Rauch and Chris Schroder. Together they were worth something around 30 runs over average covering about 130 innings of relief. That’s tremendous, one of the best relief pairs in baseball. In 2008, Schroder was back in Triple-A for some reason and though Rauch was still effective, he was hard-pressed to match 2007 and also ended up in Arizona by the end of the season.

The rotation however boasted zero, that’s right zero, members with above average core numbers. And amazingly, that group was still better than their 2007 counterparts by a good 30 or 40 runs, underscoring just how wretched the 07 rotation was. The change in 208 was that while everyone was mediocre, they were all mediocre. Mike Bacsik was gone and Matt Chico saw his innings cut dramatically. Tim Redding and Odalis Perez actually did fair jobs holding down a regular rotation spot and eating enough innings at just a below average pace.

Washington is a deeply flawed team filled with a farm system that needs help and time. They’ll get some help with the upcoming draft in which they have the first overall pick and though they have signed no one of substance as of yet, they remain constantly linked to big name free agents and thus might make a splash before the winter is done (or started, to be seasonally accurate).



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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