Over the last few weeks, the focus of The Nationals Review has been the draft, in addition to some historical Washington baseball. We haven’t spent much time looking at the time over this span, and it’s time to take a look at what they’ve been doing. Right now the team is 29-40, on pace to win 68 games.
Once you get to double digits…
On May 11, the Nationals played their 35th game of the season and finally won their 10th game. Since then, including that date, Washington is 20-14, an impressive run for a team that was picked to be relegated out of the Premier League at the end of the season. Over the course of this streak, the Nationals haven’t pitched great, they have an average number of runs allowed of 4.6. If they had done this all year, this would put them tied for 8th place in the NL, right in the middle of the pack, in terms of pitching. This isn’t bad, and since 153% of their starting rotation is on the DL, it’s even better than we should expect from this group.
Despite this average pitching, it has been their hitting that has taken them through this stretch as winners. They are scoring at an amazing clip for this team, 4.8 runs per game, a number that would put them in third place in the NL at this point during the season if it was over the whole season. That’s right, over the last month of the season, the Nats have the third best offense in the NL. Alright so that is a bit of an untruth. Over that same period of time, the Nationals offense is actually ranked 5th, behind the Cardinals, Phillies, Rockies, and Pirates.
Who are the individuals responsible?
Well the offense is driven by the players, so who are the players that have been powering this offensive explosion? Well the most visible one is Dmitri Young, and that’s not just because of his numbers. Since May 11, Young has been playing unbelievably well. Splits of .443/.473/.632 are very impressive, an OPS of 1.105 is something that even Nick Johnson couldn’t pull off. The biggest issue with Young right now is that a dropoff is expected at some point. The Nats just have to hope he holds on to this hot streak a few weeks longer so they can trade him away. Regardless, this full month of torrid hitting shows that he is a valuable commodity to teams looking for a 1B, and barring injury his trade value will be much higher than it was at the beginning of the season (when it was nil). Much credit should be given to management for taking a chance on Young, much blame will be given to them if they don’t end up trading him away.
The other big name is Christian Guzman. Hoping he would be above replacement level seemed wishful thinking, but so far he has done that and much more. Hitting .333/.389/.467 since May 11 is more than impressive, and these are incredible numbers for a SS. Before this weekend, when Guzman hit 1 for 12, he was putting up better numbers than what Jeter hit last season, when he was robbed of the MVP by a guy who wasn’t even the MVTwin. The only thing worrisome about this streak is Guzman’s lack of speed – only 2 SBs over this period – which bodes poorly for when he comes back to earth. But if Guzman continues to hit 5 triples a month, who needs stolen bases? Of course, Sister Christian (couldn’t resist) will come back down to earth and when he does, the question will be whether he hits .250 or closer to .300. His walks have been higher than in the past, if he keeps that up he could be a much more valuable player.
What to expect from Guzman
So let’s be nice and say he hits .280 for the season. He has only hit that high once (when he hit.302), but he has hit .273 and .274 before, so it is possible. If he has added taking a few walks to his repertoire, with a .280 AVG he could realistically walk enough to keep his OBP closer to .330. This would be above what his other years would suggest, but perhaps he really has improved his pitch selection. In terms of isolated power (ISO), looking only at his best years (’01-’04) his average ISO is .124, but he had an ISO of .175 in his ’01 All Star season. Since his All Star season is included in that average, it’s skewed higher, but let’s again give him the benefit of the doubt and say he manages an ISO of .150. This would put his SLG at .420 and his OPS at .750, and considering he’s only has an OPS over .700 that one great season, it aint bad. It’s just below league average, but it’s enough for a middle infielder. It would put Guzman on par with players like Marco Scutaro, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Cabrera, and Khalil Greene, all of 2006. He would be better than Scutaro and Bartlett and worse than O-Cab and Greene, in terms of power. This isn’t great, but it’s admittedly much better than what most, including me, envisioned Guzman doing. Remember, though, this is the best-case scenario. OK best-case scenario is that Guzman will continue to hit like he has, and finish the season with a Jeter-esque .900 OPS. If anyone wants to take that bet with me, let me know.
The rest of the team isn’t looking as impressive, but there are both bright spots and disappointments. Church is hitting a little worse than expected, .250/.317/.438 over this stretch is a bit below what’s good for him. Belliard has hit a spectacular .339/.350/.424, which means if he is trade bait he needs to play more. Schneider’s hitting .248, not bad for a such a great catcher. Zimmerman has 11 HRs since May 11, and ISO of .300, and his average is up around .250. Kearns isn’t too impressive, although he continues to draw walks. And finally, Lopez continues his terrible hitting, at .205/.248/.318 the Nationals have to start wondering if he is a future starting middle infielder for this team. The team has it’s role players, but if they are going to rely on Christian Guzman and two dangling trades in Ron Belliard and Dmitri Young to power their offense, they are in trouble.
Chico is the man (and I’m probably the 851st to write that)
It would be a shame to discuss this run without mentioning the lone surviving pitcher from the original starting five, Matt Chico. Chico has been impressive, and while not every outing has been spectacular, he seems to have solidified himself as a solid #3 type pitcher. While you may worry that the Nats have too many #3 in the rotation pitchers, you can never have too many. It is nice to have an ace, but if you can pull together 4 guys that would make any rotation, you can go out and buy your ace. Regardless, since May 11, Chico has made 7 starts and thanks to a few factors including no help from the bullpen he is 1-0. Only 3 of his starts have been QS, but he has made it into at least the 6th inning in 5 of them, only surrendered 4 ER once, the rest have been lower, and has a 3.46 ERA over that stretch.