Despite this team’s record – and 39-27 isn’t just a good record, it’s 4th best in major league baseball and enough for 1st place in the NL East – the offense has looked pretty bad this year. It’s kind of remarkable, the pitching and defense have been so strong, that after the first month of the season when everyone was complaining about the lack of offense, the clamor about it has died down. It’s still bad, although it might not be as bad as you think.
Besides ranking 12th in the NL in runs scored per game, the individual numbers look awful. Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .226/.296/.317, a powerless display that has only gotten worse since returning from injury. Mike Morse came back from injury to contribute a paltry .219/.250/.328 so far this year. Jesus Flores, a backup catcher pressed into starting duty, is only hitting .236/.283/.339. And even Ian Desmond, despite impressive power, has an OBP of .289. That’s 4 out of 8 starting positing players with On Base Percentages lower than .300. And .300 isn’t exactly an OBP mark to strive for, even Danny Espinosa‘s .227/.312/.373 shows too little power to brush off an unimpressive on base.
One reason it has been better than horrible is that a few guys are contributing. The most obvious one is Bryce Harper, who is right now hitting .291/.372/.514 after a bad week. He leads the offense in WARP (1.9) and VORP (15.1), which we’ll dive into more in a bit, but keep in mind these are a counting stats, and he missed the first month of the season. Adam LaRoche is the other big contributor on offense, who’s 4th in the NL in OPS among first basemen, and his 1.5 WARP and 10.5 VORP are both second on the team. That’s about it when you talk about positive contributions from starters. Steve Lombardozzi was going good for a while, but he has dropped down to .268/.329/.346, and without getting on base he has little to contribute. But like I said, it’s not as bad as it looks.
First of all, Ryan Zimmerman’s VORP is positive 1.5, which means he’s doing better than his numbers seem to indicate. It’s not average, but it’s not a gaping black hole. Ian Desmond has a VORP of 9.0, ranking him 8th among NL shortstops, and his True Average of .262 ranks him 7th, both middle of the pack, thanks to all that power he’s shown. So he’s no slouch either. Flores, meanwhile, ranks relatively low but not at the bottom for WAR, VORP and True Average, something most teams would be thrilled to get out of a backup catcher.
Zimmerman still has a long way to go to contribute more than minutely on offense, but he isn’t horrible compared to what the league is doing at his position. Espinosa is making up for a lost April which has dragged his numbers down. Since May 4, he’s hitting .255/.333/.455 in 163 PAs. A good 2B comparison for those numbers are Jason Kipnis of the Indians who’s hitting .276/.330/.441 and has a VORP of 15.4. That’s good enough for 4th among MLB second basemen. And Mike Morse deserves some sort of reprieve for not even being at 100 PAs.
The offense is bad, for sure, but it’s not as horrible as you might think. With improvements to Zim and Morse, which you’d expect, and if Espinosa keeps doing what he’s been doing for the last now 62% of PAs, they might yet put together and actual offense.
*Keep in mind that WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) includes fielding and VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is a position dependent but offense only stat. As we’re talking about hitting here, I’ve mostly used VORP