Runs Created in the Middle

The Nats lineup is looking pretty potent these days, just like it did at the beginning of the season. Back then, Guzman was hitting like a champ, and the Johnson-ZimmermanDunn combo was unstoppable. Well, Guzman has had his ups and downs, Zimmerman got cold, and Johnson isn’t even on the team anymore. Nyjer Morgan has changed things further by hitting incredibly well in the leadoff spot. But what makes this offense click is the most important part – the middle of the lineup.

The Nats 3, 4, and 5 hitters (Zim, Dunn, Willingham) have done extremely well, especially since the break. Obviously, they don’t always trot this lineup out there, but it is a good assessment of what the Nats use in the middle.  It got me thinking, who has been better than this group? I used Runs Created (RC) to measure it – for a primer on RC go to the stats page – because it’s great for this as it’s based on cumulative offensive stats. It is position independent, unlike VORP, and it’s a counting stat, so you can just add it up. I found out the totals as well as the standard deviation of the 3 players to see how big of a range they had. Here is what it looks like for the bonny Nats:

Nats RC

So, let’s take that assumption through the rest of the NL. There are a few caveats. Due to the counting nature of the stat, some teams don’t work as well. Willingham has a lower RC due to not playing regularly early on, but he has produced. If he had the same number of ABs as Zimmerman, he’d have about 100 RC. It is important to remember that for some teams it’s tough to name a 3-4-5 group. As you can imagine, I had a problem with using Manny for LA, so I put in Casey Blake instead because he has a higher RC and has hit in the middle of the lineup quite a bit.  I had to put Sheff in for Delgado in NY, I used Holliday’s full season numbers in St. Louis, and Pittsburgh didn’t have 3 guys that even made sense, with all of their turnover. But in general, it gets to the point for most teams.  Here’s what you get:

NL 345 RC

Perhaps not surprisingly, why else would I be writing this, the Nats rank really high on this list. What does it mean? Well, in simplest terms, in means that their 3-4-5 hitters were responsible for more run production than all but 2 other teams in the NL. Also, those teams had higher standard deviation in their numbers. This isn’t surprising, St. Louis has Pujols with 123.3 RC, Holliday was at 84.7 and Ludwick was down at 52.1. Milwaukee got high numbers from Braun and Fielder, but Cameron was much lower. If you want to take a look at the full spreadsheet I used, check it out here.

As for the Conclusions

This tells me that, indeed, the Nationals have a potent middle of the order. It also tells me that if you get rid of either Dunn or Willingham, as many people are interested in doing, you are going to have a tough time replacing their offensive production. There just isn’t much that compares favorably to the heart of Washington’s order. Does that make either of those guys untouchable this offseason? No, of course not. But it’s very important to remember that if either of them leave, it better be in exchange for something worthwhile, because the offense they bring cannot be easily replicated.

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