Monday, 13 July 2009

First Half Nationals Review: The Lineup

So, here we stand, looking forward to the Riggleman phase of the 2009 Washington Nationals. The team is on pace to lose a hundred games, and on a pace not to win more than 50. Teams with that kind of record more than likely have so many flaws that a mere change of manager won't achieve much. de civitate sabermetricarum takes this All Star Break to review the situation that will welcome Mr Riggleman when he gets back to work. Since there are conveniently three days between now and the return of the team to action, I've divided this survey, like Gaul, into three parts: the lineup, the fielding, and the pitching. What has Mr Riggleman got? What can he do about the areas that need work?

This survey of the batting isn't going to focus on players so much as the lineup. Comparing this to the league will, one hopes, indicate how it contributes to this losing season so far. In spite of an offense not being too bad, in relation to the rest of the league, the Nationals aren't winning. They are not short of baserunners, as the team OBP is second in the league. But it seems that these opportunities are not being converted into enough runs. We know that lately the Nationals are leaving a lot of men on base. In the 86 games played so far, the Nationals have left 699 men on base. Is that a lot?

The National League team with the lowest percentage of its baserunners scoring is San Diego, which has only managed to put 12% of them across the plate. They've left 613 on base. But they also have the fewest number of baserunners to begin with. The best team at driving them in is Colorado, with 16% of baserunners scoring. They've left on base 612 runners. The closest in total number of baserunners with a batter at the plate is the Mets, with 2235 to the Nationals 2317. The Mets have left 660 runners on base. So, the short answer is, yes, 699 is a lot.

Looking at the batting order, and using Runs Created per 27 Outs, the old Bill James formula, we get the following for each batting order position:
1st     4.17
2nd 6.87
3rd 5.67
4th 7.48
5th 5.46
6th 4.16
7th 3.76
8th 4.72
9th 1.83

That leadoff number is a bit of a shocker, isn't it? The leadoff spot's OBP is .317, worse than any other spot except the pitcher's and the guys who have batted 7th. So, chances are there's one out by the time the better performing slots of 2 and 3 get to the plate. It's absolutely vital to get the first man at bat on base to maximize the chance of scoring runs. However, the chances are the leadoff man will only leadoff one or two innings.

Let's do this another way, and track the OBP and SLG of the Nationals' batting order against the league average:

Spot Nationals League
1st .317/.372 .327/.383
2nd .416/.429 .348/.413
3rd .363/.477 .373/.490
4th .384/.541 .351/.472
5th .352/.489 .337/.433
6th .337/.347 .332/.403
7th .310/.379 .316/.399
8th .348/.369 .328/.377
9th .256/.251 .247/.262

Here's another question for you: where do you think the Nationals rank in the league in slugging? The answer is 6th. Pretty good, but when you compare the slugging by batting order, an interesting pattern emerges. The Nationals' slugging is concentrated in a handful of spots in the order. They beat the league average at the 2nd, 4th and 5th, but are behind elsewhere. An awful lot of the Nationals' slugging is tied up in Adam Dunn. The rest of the lineup, with the exception of the 5th spot, is hovering around league average or, in the case of spots 6 and 7, a worryingly amount below.

I think we have an answer here as to why the Nationals are leaving so many men on base. The production is too concentrated, rather than being spread around the lineup. Adam Dunn, with the lion's share of plate appearances in the 4 slot, can't carry the team on his own. That's something Riggleman needs to fix. Sadly, I don't see a solution on the team at the moment.

No comments: