Finally, Some Hitters Are Hitting

August 3, 2011

Don’t look now, but some of the guys on this team are actually hitting. Throughout the season, Mike Morse has been a great hitter, but nobody else has done it consistently. Danny Espinosa started out great, but hasn’t really hit since the beginning of July. The same relative time frame can be said about Laynce Nix. But all of sudden, if you are paying attention, you’ll notice that some other guys are actually hitting for this team.

Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond has experienced a resurgance of hitting in the last few weeks. Since July 6, about a week before the All Star break, he is hitting .292/.373/.446. Even if you don’t include last night’s game with the HR, his OPS was .753 over that span. It’s probably nothing more than a hot streak, but it has raised his OPS 48 points in that time. If he can do it for another 20 games, or even more, he’ll finish the season with numbers that aren’t SO bad for a starting SS.

Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth is also in the midst of a hot streak. His dates back to the All Star break on the dot. Since his return from the time off (no, he did not get selected this year) he has hit .288/.400/.475, but he’s looked even better in his last 12 games. From July 19, he’s hit .341/.442/.591. That can defined as a legitimate hot streak, I think, and unlike the numbers Desi has put up, is even hot for a GOOD hitter. Whether this is because of the time off, or just pure luck, we may never know. But we can certainly count this as a good sign that Werth never completely lost his ability to hit. With its return this last 2 weeks, I have some confidence that it won’t disappear permanently.

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Hopes for the Second Half

July 14, 2011

Ok, technically, the Nationals’ season is more like 57% over not 50% over, but let’s skip the games played and just go with the All Star Game as the traditional midway point. There are a few things I’m really hoping to happen this half that would make me more confident going in to next season. While a playoff berth this year is still possible, the team just isn’t THAT good yet. I’m more concerned with them getting ready to make an actual run at a playoff spot in 2012. These aren’t predictions, these are just some things I’d like to see.

Trade

There aren’t too many trade chips for this team, but Jason Marquis is one of them. His ERA+ of 95 is about what you’d expect, and its nothing to get other teams foaming at the mouth. But he’s a free agent at the end of the year who isn’t likely to yield compensation picks. He’s worthless to them come the end of this season, but someone else might be able to use him. Livan Hernandez is in the same boat, and has actually pitched slightly better, but has legal issues which may make him harder to trade. If they can turn either of these guys into anything of value in the trade market, they gotta do it.

Jerry Hairston has performed well enough in fill-in roles, hitting just about what his career numbers would indicate. If there is a team that needs someone to play any of the myriad of positions he can play, why not get some value for him? They won’t get much, but something is better than nothing.

Laynce Nix is interesting because many might not want to trade him, figuring he can start in LF for the rest of the season and next year too. The problem is, he is a free agent after this season, and probably stands to make more than the $700K he’s making right now.

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Some Less Offensive Offense

June 1, 2011

For once, I’d like to talk about some of the good this offense is doing. Ok, so maybe I’m an optimist and I tend to talk about that anyway, but let’s be honest, this season I have been pretty quiet on my praise for the hitters. But there are a couple of things works noting.

Danny Espinosa has been unable to maintain a healthy batting average. But he walks so much (this isn’t a surprise if you look at what he did in the minors) and hits with enough power that is ALMOST doesn’t matter. I say almost because if he was hitting just .250, as opposed to .217, he’d be the rookie of the year favorite. Back to what he IS doing though. His .217/.311/.461 comes with 10 HR, enough for best among NL rookies… but 5 home runs. His OPS ranks 3rd for rookies, but that low average is killing him. It helps to keep his OBP too low, that .311 mark ranks him 3rd from the bottom, at #9 among those with at least 50 PAs.

I’ve written about this recently, but I’ll say it again. The slump that Mike Morse was in during all of April is gone. He isn’t just hitting well recently, his season numbers are up to .301/.329/.504. That is off of a streak where he hit HRs in 4 straight games, and in 5 of 7. It makes up for his April in a big way. His OPS now ranks 15th among all NL outfielders with at least 125 PAs. Top 15 makes you a starter, considering each team has three, which brings us to the another outfielder.

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A Platoon Possibility

May 13, 2011

Over the winter, when things were rosey and Mike Morse was coming off a great season, there were lots of ideas of how to deal with the outfield. Rick Ankiel, a lefty hitter, could play great CF, but nobody knew if he could hit. Roger Bernadina wasn’t as good of a fielder, and was also a lefty. Mike Morse was a righty but hit everyone in 2010. Nyjer Morgan, another lefty, was still on the team. When Morgan left, alot of people started constructing ideas of the lineup. Perhaps Morse would start against lefties, and either Bernie or Ankiel would play CF. Maybe Hairston and Morse would play those games, while Bernie and Ankiel would start against righties. But Morse has looked so good, starting only against lefties seemed like a waste.

Well the season is moving along, and things have changed. First, Morse hasn’t hit at all. Ankiel is on the DL, and Bernadina just came up from the minors, with still a bit of a reverse platoon split, hitting better against righties. Meanwhile, other than their 23 year old catcher, the best hitter on the Nats has been Laynce Nix, and he is rightfully getting playing time in LF. Just as Morse’s 2010 may not have been a true reflection of how good he can hit, Nix’s April and May probably is a little overstated. The 30 year old hit this well last year, but it was in a very hitter friendly park in Cincinnati, and it was almost exclusively versus righties. Which brings me to the premise of the article.

While we can’t figure out everything at once, and CF remains a mystery, there is hope for LF for this season. You see, even this year, while everyone has lauded was Nix has done, something that has remained somewhat unnoticed is that he hasn’t hit lefties. Literally and figuratively, as he only has 1 hit in 8 PAs against them. His remaining 65 have been against lefties. And his career OPS splits of .743 vs righties and .518 vs lefties suggest this is the way to go with him. Meanwhile, despite Mike Morse’s struggle this particular season, he has always shown an ability to hit lefties, and hit them with power.

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Two Games Does Not an Offense Make

May 12, 2011

The Nats have scored 7 runs per game in the last 2 games. Despite the fact that it took 2 errors in the first game and an 11 inning game, it’s an accomplishment. They actually have done this before, 2 games in a row of 7 runs each almost exactly a month ago against the Mets. And they scored 8, then 5, then 8 against the Brewers then the Cardinals. So as much as we’d like to believe that the last few days are a sign of things to come, there is way to know. And there are doubts that things are going to get better.

The team is 12th in the NL in runs per game, dead last in OBP and OPS, and second to last in SLG. Of the guys who might be considered starters, the only with an OPS+ over 100 are Werth (who’s 109 isn’t great, he ranks 17th for RFers in the majors in OPS), Ramos, and Nix. As poor as they are hitting, the two next best in OPS+ are Espinosa and Desmond.

They aren’t hitting with much power, but at least, without getting on base that much, they’re doing well at swiping them. Desmond is 12 for 13 with steals, Werth is 5 for 6, Ankiel is 4 for 5, and Espinosa is 3 for 4. These are all good clips, that could help a low scoring team with decent pitching win a couple games. But really, none of this will matter that much if everyone continues to hit like they have. Without a significant recovery, their run differential will only get worse, their record will slip well below .500, and when they do score 7 runs you will be once again completely shocked.


This Could Be the Best Ankiel Has

April 21, 2011

I know it’s early, and we don’t want to worry too much about statistics. A bunch of hitters on this team have started off slowly, and most of them will probably recover. Similarly, Wilson Ramos won’t hit .364 all season. But one player that does worry me is Rick Ankiel. He’s currently hitting .231/.306/.308, which is pretty much atrocious. I’d be less worried, except last season he only hit .232/.321/.389. Basically, if 2 of his hits were a HR and a triple instead of the 2 singles that they were, he’d be right on pace for last season, with a few less walks. Not good, and not convincing me that he is going to do any better.

In fact, it wasn’t just last season that he hit so poorly. In 2009, he had 404 PAs and hit .231/.285/.387. It’s starting to look familiar. Maybe he’s a .231/.300/.387 hitter. Which would mean his ISO power is decent at .150, but not so great that it can excuse the rest of the junk. It’s not even very good power, it’s better described as “some pop” or something similar. Ankiel is a vet, and he’s played well in center field, but this experiment may quickly be coming to an end. If it does, then who else can they play there?

Laynce Nix

This may surprise some fans, but Nix has played more CF in his career than any other position. He’s spent about 58% of his innings playing CF, the rest in the corner OF spots. And his fielding has been good there. Over his career his UZR/150 is 9.3 in CF, so it looks like he can field the position. The problem with Nix, though, is his bat. He has started out strong, managing to make the club and then hitting .276/.300/.483 in 30 PAs. The power is still there, but his numbers suggest that he doesn’t walk that much, and it’s true. He is also probably not a .275 hitter in terms of average, as his career numbers are .244/.286/.426. And his best years, really his only good years, were in Cincinnati, a great park for hitters. But, even if he hits .240/.290/.426 from here on out, it may beat what Ankiel can do.

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