What the Nats’ .500 Start Means for 2010

Let's turn the headline into a question: Considering this is basically the same team that stunk on ice each of the past two seasons, especially in April, how are the Nats .500 through this season's first 20 games? Let's try to figure it out by looking at four key components:

Batting: 4.35 runs per game, .750 OPS (4.38, .743 last year)

Ivan Rodriguez is batting .411, so that’s a bit out of step. But no one else in the lineup is far exceeding expectations, except for maybe Josh Willingham, and Ryan Zimmerman’s only played about half the time. Plus, they’ve gotten absolutely nothing out of the RF Willies, Harris and Tavares, neither of whom is hitting his weight, which is bad, because they’re little guys.

Overall, this is in line with last year’s production, and the Nats should keep hitting at this clip, if not slightly higher, as the year goes on.

Pitching: 5.01 ERA, 1.48 WHIP (5.00 ERA, 1.52 WHIP last year)

Livan Hernandez, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps (Clip & Save!) all have ERAs below 1, which is as fleeting as it is awesome. On the flip side, the rest of the starting rotation and bullpen have been a hot mess.

While this year’s staff isn’t much better on paper than the 2009 version, reinforcements are on the way in the form of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen as well as possibly Chien-Mien Wang and a not-disastrous Jason Marquis. It’s easy to see them shaving off some of that overgrown ERA.

Fielding: 0.6 errors per game this year (0.88 last year)

Errors are probably the worst way to quantify defensive performance, but I don’t really know any other way, so there you go.

Chris, however, came to my rescue with FanGraph’s fielding stats, one of which, DRS, states that the Nats already have five defensive runs saved this year versus eight all of last year. The Nats’ UZR/150 is also at 6.7 this year vs. -3.3 last year. I have no idea what that means; let’s assume it’s good.

Unlike the Nats’ hitting and pitching through the first 20 games, this is a big improvement and probably has something to do with Nyjer Morgan, Ian Desmond and the Willies in the defensive lineup.

Pythagorean: 8-12 record, .412 winning percentage (64-98, .398)

Wikipedia defines this as “how many games a baseball team ‘should’ have won based on the number of runs they scored and allowed.” Considering the Nats have allowed 17 more runs than they’ve scored, they should be 8-12 and pacing towards an eight-games-better-than-last-year 67-win season.

But they’re not 8-12; they’re 10-10. Given that, and that their hitting and pitching figure to improve, however slightly, the Nats seem headed for 70-plus wins. That would be drastic improvement, enough to provide hope.

Talk of contending is still fiction, but I don’t care. It’s time to pretend.

Update: Make it 11-10.

9 thoughts on “What the Nats’ .500 Start Means for 2010”

  1. According to one of Boswell’s recent columns, they’ve played by far the hardest part of their schedule (judging by last years records). That hopefully means more wins against more average teams.

  2. And last year the team still had Albatross Kearns.

    Watching the majority of the games this season, I’ve noticed that this team has a spark they didn’t have last year. They enjoy winning and get siced for the close ones.

    Their numbers are pretty similar to last year, but I believe that is more testament to the fact that they shouldn’t have lost so many games last year. It’s amazing what a bullpen and competent managing can do for a team (it’s called a stolen base, Manny, look into it).

  3. One more thing on the pythagorean scale to discuss though. Almost all of the run differential problem is due to Jason Marquis, who has been sent to the DL. I don’t know what the run differential would be if you just removed his starts, but I’m willing to bet its in the positive.

  4. A name missing from the batting stats is Adam Dunn, who so far has produced just this side of diddly-squat. But since he is usually weak in April, we have his return to normalcy to look forward to along with Zim’s return. As far as Willingham exceeding expectations, I think we’re seeing what happens when he’s given the opportunity to play every day and not sit on the bench watching Kearns and Dukes playing instead. Remember what he did last year when he finally got the full time job? Also, given what Maxwell and Harris are doing in RF (Willir was off the hook on Sunday), I can live, albeit barely, with them not hitting their weight….at least for now.

  5. For Dunn you have to be sure to look at his OBP.
    Are walks what he’s in the lineup for? No, but he is getting on base.

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