The Washington Nationals are currently sitting at 6-9 and are fifth in the NL East with many questions swirling around the club. Pitching concerns have been addressed widely by a patchwork of replacements, but what about the batting? Washington is batting .262 overall in 14 games and are sporting a .719 OPS, both of which are about average. While average is not what the Nationals are striving for, it could potentially help them tread water until things are 100% normal again with their lineup and rotation. Let’s take a deeper dive into the batting number and see what we find.
Through Monday’s series opener against St. Louis, Washington has a below-average BA when in a two-strike counts. In this scenario, Washington players are hitting just .199 with an OBP of .264. Obviously, being ahead in a count is more advantageous to a hitter and this is true for the Nationals, who are batting .240 for all counts that are even or better. When you compare those numbers to teams like the Braves or Dodgers, they are similar or even better, which is surprising given how much better their records are.
Another angle we could look at this is with Washington’s batting numbers relative to how many outs there are and having men on base. With no outs, they are hitting near the league average. The Nationals are doing fairly well with two outs, hitting .276, but their SLG% and OPS are still average at best. With one out they are worse, hitting .245 with Gomes, Robles, and Bell the worst offenders with averages below .200. The one-out scenario is valuable for the team to get on base and pressure the opposing pitcher. One of the most important times to come up with a hit is batting with runners in scoring position. In those cases, Washington is batting only .250 with an OBP of .333 and a SLG% of .320. Those numbers are not exactly a formula for driving in runs and/or building a lead in ball games.
Lastly, I want to dive into different leverage situations for the Nationals. According to FanGraphs.com, “Leverage Index is a measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base.” In this index, anything rated 1.00 or below is neutral or low leverage, while anything rated above 1.00 is considered high leverage and becomes higher as the rating number increases.
In high leverage situation, the Nationals are hitting just .192, with a .304 OBP, and a .321 SLG%. This is obviously not good and needs to change if the Nationals want to put together rallies and have a chance to win tight ball games.
Another stat that really stood out is the difference in batting average when Washington is ahead vs. being behind. When leading, they are hitting .071 higher than when behind. This bodes well if the Nationals get out to a lead, but when a poor pitching performance puts them behind, they cannot manage a comeback without hitting well. They also struggle in these final three situations: RISP and two outs, late game and close, and tie games. In those situations, the Nationals bat .239 or worse. That is a recipe for losing games, especially with how below average the bullpen has been to start out this season.
Overall, I am not sure it is enough of a sample size to panic just yet, but things will definitely need to change for this team. Schwarber and Bell need to drastically improve their rate in which they hit for contact and Robles needs to continue on the positive path he followed in Spring Training. If these things happen, combined with the offensive consistency of Soto and Turner, then the Nationals should be fine. If not, things could be very interesting come June and the rest of the season.
Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux