We're actually a bit more than halfway through, but the All Star break is the traditional midway point of the baseball season. Let's take a moment to see how the team has stacked up so far, statistically.
I don't see how you can get around this one. The team record is 26-61 in 87 games so far, a .299 winning percentage. That's last in the NL East, last in the NL, last in MLB. No matter what bright spots there are elsewhere in the numbers, they have not made their way to the top line. The Nats stink this season, plain and simple. That record projects to 48-114, only a few games off of 1962-Mets-bad. That would be the worst record in the Nats/Expos franchise history, and the worst for any Washington-based team since the 1884 American Association Washington Nationals went 12-51 for a .190 winning percentage. We've scored 381 runs and allowed 489 so far, for an "expected" winning percentage of .378. In others, we "should" have a record of 33-54--7 games better! (That would still be last in MLB, but only 4 or 5 games back from the next-to-last teams instead of 10...) In other words, the team is under-performing even its poor hitting, pitching, and fielding to date.
Grades for offense, starters, relievers, and defense after the jump. Can you guess the Nats' GPA?
Remember the hit parade at the start of the season? Good times! It's tailed off a little in the second quarter. The Nats are scoring an average 4.33 runs per game, 8th in the NL and just below the league-average of 4.44. After the Donkey's blistering start, and despite the Hammer's recent surge, the Nats have 150 HR, 10th in the NL (average is 155). As a team, the Nationals are hitting .260/.343/.401 for a .744 OPS and a 97 OPS+. Those batting numbers are actually slightly above average, good for about 5th or 6th in the NL (league avg team OPS is .735, and league avg team OPS+ is 94... I know, 100 OPS+ is supposed to be "league average," but OPS+ is by player, not by team, and the park adjustment probably skews things down a bit--there are a lot of hitter-friendly parks in the NL). Washington also lags in SB with 35 (13th in the league; avg is 50) but hits around league-average with 18 CS! That 66% success rate is actually just below break-even. That is, the Nats' (few) stolen bases aren't helping as much as the caught-stealing's are hurting. Nats batters are being patient, seeing at average of 3.95 pitchers per PA, well above league average (3.83) and 2nd in the NL. Surprisingly, they've even been slightly lucky on average, with a .314 team BABIP, vs the league average of .296. They've been less "clutch" than average (tied for 11th in the NL), with a .251 BA with RISP, versus the NL average .255. Overall, I'd have to say that the Nats, for all the bases-loaded failures, are solidly in the middle of the NL, offense-wise.
Starting pitching: D-
For all the flashes of hope, the starters have been a disaster this year, performance-wise. Sure, they've been getting better, but the first quarter was so terrible... Overall, Nats pitchers are allowing 5.62 runs per game, last in the NL, more than a run behind the league average, and more than a half a run behind the second-worst Padres. The starters have a combined ERA of 4.95, good for fourth-worst in the NL. Starting K/9 (5.17) and K/BB (3.56) are both near the bottom, and K/BB is worst in the NL at 1.45. Team WHIP (1.50) is also worst in the league. The Nats have the fewest Quality Starts (39%, league average is 51%). The Nats are tied for second-worst in IP per game at 5.7 (NL average is 5.9). Washington does have 4 CG so far, which is tied for 4th in the NL and above the league average of 3. The only reason this isn't an F is because Cabrera is gone, some of the youngsters have good peripherals, and we're not quite last in some categories.
Relief pitching: F
Do we even have flashes of hope here? The bullpen has upgraded to "shaky" in the second quarter from the first's "unmitigated disaster." Recall the R/G from above, and then consider that the Nats are worst in the league in save percentage (41%, average is 64%) and second worst in scoring inherited runners (37%, average is 31%). In terms of peripherals, the bullpen has the second-worst K/9 (6.60), BB/9 (5.37), and BAA (.327), and the worst K/BB (1.23) and ERA (5.71). Starter-by-committee is looking better every game, isn't it? The only "bright" spot is that bullpen HR/9 is a league-average 0.82.
Oh, boy. This is not pretty. The Nats are worst in the league in errors (82) and fielding percentage (.975). Their UZR is also last in the league, at 33.4 runs below average. Looking a bit deeper, it only gets worse. The Nats have the worst DER in the league, at .677 (league average is .697)--they have the lowest percentage of batted balls converted into outs in the league. The difference between Nationals' pitchers' ERA and FIP (fielding-independent ERA) is highest in the league, with ERA more than half a run worse than FIP. Taken together, this means that not only is the defense making a lot of errors, they're also not making plays (that is, plays where you don't get charged an error because you never got your glove on it... but a better fielder would...). Note that the Nats aren't necessarily worst in some elements of fielding: they're only below average when it comes to arms (throwing out runners/holding runners from extra bases) and double plays; however, they're near the bottom in range (how far away a fielder can track down a hit) and worst in the impact of errors.
You have all the ingredients for a bad season so far: average offense tied to bad starting pitching, worse relief pitching, and even worse defense. And somehow, the Nats are underperforming even those terrible fundamentals! I'll try to dig a bit further into the some of the big disconnects between our pre-season dreams and today in the next day or two, but for now... embrace the suck...