Feast or Famine? Blame the OBP

We have seen this season that the Nats offense has its moments, and then has games where it doesn’t really show up at all. Or in the case of the recent road trip, 5 days in a row where it doesn’t show up at all. This feast or famine aspect of the offense is frustrating, but it doesn’t mean they can’t score. They’re ranked 7th in the league in runs scored, so they aren’t slouches. But their OBP is ranked 10th, and some of that is buoyed by guys who haven’t been starters all year, which may go a long way to explaining why it seems like when they’re not scoring, they’re really not scoring.

There are 222 players in MLB this year with 300 or more plate appearances. Ranking by OBP, the Nats highest ranking player on that list is Ryan Zimmerman, who ranks 63rd with a .349 mark. The next guy is Adam LaRoche, who’s .333 ranks him 109th, just above the halfway mark. It looks worse as you keep going, here are the rest of the guy’s who qualify:

These aren’t horrible numbers, but there’s nobody great at getting on base this year on the list, including the guys mentioned up top. And while nobody’s in that bottom quartile, 5 of the 7 guys with enough PAs are in the bottom half. That goes a long way to explaining why this team is so feast or famine.

And this may be an indicator of what they need to look for in the offseason. The talk that you usually hear about this team is that they’re missing a true CF and a true leadoff man, and they could probably get one guy to fill both roles. If that is the case, they better get a guy with a high OBP, and avoid the talented but OBP-free BJ Upton’s of the world.

Some of this will improve. Morse is probably a better hitter than his numbers show right now, and as I love to mention, Espinosa’s season numbers might be better calculated (or at least another way to interpret them) after the first month of the season, when he looked completely lost. Since May 5, his OBP of .323 isn’t spectacular but its better than 150th best in the league. Bryce Harper should see significant improvements as he gets another season under his belt, doesn’t have to deal with the fatigue of his rookie season, and, oh yeah, enters his 20s.

Not That This Offense Is BAD

Keep in mind, though, that this analysis isn’t meant to demolish this team’s ability to score runs. They can and they do. And if you think Ian Desmond’s .319 OBP is an indicator of a bad season, you need to get your glasses cleaned. Desmond is a great example of a guy with a relatively low OBP who has hit with a high enough average and power to make it much less relevant. And for his position, Desi’s been great – Ian’s .282/.319/.500 demolished the average NL shortstop’s .257/.309/.387. But he is a streaky hitter, and his lack of walks means that when he isn’t hitting, he isn’t getting on. He is how this team operates.

There are a few exceptions, though, and the biggest one is Jayson Werth. Werth’s .384 OBP would rank him tied for 20th in this list, which is significant. His presence in the lineup should help them be better able to score even when the hitting isn’t working great. And while this weekend against the Phillies wasn’t pretty, if there’s any team with the pitching staff that should be able to win while only scoring a run or two, it’s the Nats. So that ability to get on could be very important to the team.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two other players. Roger Bernadina has been very effective in his limited time, and while his .390 OBP is probably highly dependent on an unsustainable .308 batting average, he still deserves credit for taking his walks, especially coming off the bench. And speaking of bench players, Tyler Moore‘s .285/.350/.508 is also probably based on a unsustainable batting average, but still shows an impressive amount of plate discipline.

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