Yesterday I made mention of the much improved defense of this team. Yesterday night, a costly error, this time by Ryan Zimmerman, allowed the first runner in the 9th inning to reach base when the Nats had a run one lead. That guy ended up scoring. Additionally, the Nats are dead last in errors in NL, not a good sign. Despite this, I still believe their defense is better than it was, and, dare I say it, isn’t even terrible. First of all, just by observation you can see that this team’s defense is no longer horrendous. When the left side of your infield makes an error, you don’t think, with Desmond and Zimmerman, that it’s bad. You realize that even good fielders make errors.
Second, and this is something I think alot of people are missing, is that the Nats defense has to make more plays than everyone in the NL. They have gotten about the same number of outs, give or take a few extra inning games or home victories, than the rest of the league. Yet, they are dead last in strikeouts, by 28 Ks behind the second worst team, and by 63 behind the third worst. That is means they have to make many more plays in the field than every single other team in the NL.
If you look at the defensive metrics, they aren’t doing that poorly. To further prove the point that they have more balls put into play than other teams, their defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in put play turned into outs) is .694, ranking them 6th best in the NL. Also, Baseball Reference measures a team’s “Rtot”, the Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average. The Nats sit at -1, which ranks them 10th in the NL, just a tick better than the average of -2. LA is at -30 and Milwaukee’s at -39. Another of those complex compiled VORP-like defensive metrics is “Rdrs”, the Defensive Runs Saved Above Average. Here, your Washington Nationals sit at 21, making them the 6th best in the NL.
So before you start blaming the defense for all their errors, remember that there is more to defense than errors made. And remember what you had to witness last year, especially before the arrival of Nyjer Morgan, on days when both Willingham and Dunn patrolled the outfield. Count your blessings and thank for defense that this non-strikeout pitching staff has more than a dozen wins.