Washington: Not The Worst?

Everyone knows the Washington Nationals are the worst team in baseball, right? They are the only club around with less than 40 wins on the season, and they’ve been the brunt of every joke about baseball for the last few years. However, right now, they might just be putting a better team on the field than the Kansas City Royals.

When the Nationals traded Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett on July 1st, they were 23-54, sporting a .298 winning percentage that made them a virtual lock for the top pick in the 2010 draft. Since Morgan’s arrival, however, he’s significantly upgraded the team the Nationals put on the field, posting a .396 wOBA and +7 UZR in 30 games with the team.

Not surprisingly, the Nationals have played significantly better since the deal, winning 13 of 31 games for a .419 winning percentage. They’ve thinned out their glut of 1B/OF by dealing Nick Johnson and DL’ing Austin Kearns, which lets them go with a regular outfield of Willingham-Morgan-Dukes/Harris, with Adam Dunn taking his defensive butchery to first base. This gives the Nats their best defensive outfield to date, and with Morgan getting on base for the three big hitters in the middle of the line-up, they can actually score some runs.

The bullpen is still a disaster, but the current version of the Nationals are quite a bit better than the team they were putting on the field to start the season.

So if the Nationals aren’t the easiest team to beat in the game anymore, who is? How about the Kansas City Royals? Since starting the season 23-23, they’ve won just 18 of their last 61 games. Gil Meche and Coco Crisp has landed on the disabled list, taking two of the Royals better players off the field. Yuniesky Betancourt has been brutal since coming over from Seattle, continuing to make shortstop a massive hole on the roster. Even Zack Greinke has come back to earth a bit, walking 13 batters in his last six starts, all of which have ended with a Royals loss.

The reversal of fortune for these two clubs have actually given the Royals a decent chance at passing the Nationals for the worst record in baseball. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of the Nationals in the standings, but if they keep playing .295 baseball like they have for the last two months, they’ll finish with a record of 57-105. The Nationals, if they keep playing at the .419 clip they’ve put up since Morgan arrived, would finish with a 58-104 record.

Okay, so neither of those performances are likely to continue. But it’s kind of impressive, for lack of a better word, that the Royals have been able to collapse to the point where it’s even a race to the finish.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Kevin
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Kevin

I think there’s a case to be made for the Padres.

JH
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JH

Once you adjust for league quality (NL vs AL), the Royals probably aren’t even in the top 3.

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