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The Line Between Bad, Unlucky, And Bad & Unlucky

The Washington Post game story recounting last night's loss to the Mets contains a dour bit of frustration, or trivia, or both:

Washington is now 1 for 13 with the bases loaded this season, one measly single.

This is one of those early season statistics indicating a horrific team, or an unlucky team, or a horrific team that will be less horrific when luck turns its way.

First things first, the Nats' performance with the sacks jacked is the worst among MLB teams - sort of. The .077 batting average is actually twenty-sixth in the majors, but only one of the trailing teams still hitless has even half the at-bats the Nats do with the bases loaded. In fact, the Mariners still do not have an official at-bat in such a situation; it appears they have a sacrifice play in their lone bases loaded plate appearance. (The team directly ahead of the Nats in bases loaded batting average, Colorado, actually has a lower OPS. The Rockies have a single and a sacrifice fly, whereas the Nats have a single and a walk.)

But, to discard definitions of whose performance has been the worst two weeks into the season, let's resolve that the Nats' performance with the bases loaded has been awful thus far. This commentary is evocative of the notes a week ago that the Nats were poor with runners in scoring position, which they still are: heading into Saturday's game, their .177 average with RISP ranks twenty-ninth in the majors.

Needless to say, this stuff won't continue; in fact, unless something truly bizarre is afoot, it simply can't continue. The nature of full-season statistics simply won't allow it to do so:

Season MLB Worst, LOADED MLB Worst, RISP
2006 .229 .240
2005 .211 .237
2004 .192 .221
2003 .209 .228
2002 .172 .231
2001 .224 .238
2000 .220 .241

That goes far enough back; it also goes back as far as's database will go. And yes, batting average is a crude way to look at most issues, but at least in a bases loaded or RISP situation, even a single will generally pay off in a run or more (though, of course, an extra-base hit is no cause for complaint).

As you can see, there are historical thresholds for futility in these situations, and those thresholds are significantly higher than the Nats' current situational batting averages. The Nats have at least 100 points of natural growth in batting average with the bases loaded and about fifty points with RISP. It might seem initially counterintuitive that RISP averages are generally higher than averages with the bases loaded, but a simple explanation emerges. The National League average with the bases loaded trails that of the American League (generally be ten to thirty points) because the NL doesn't employ the designated hitter and, more to the point, the opposition can walk the eighth hitter to face a punchless pitcher, especially in the early innings.

To recap, here is where we are: Washington's performance in situational hitting has been abysmal so far. This abysmal performance is perhaps a sign that the offense is itself generally abysmal, but the abysmal situational performance makes the offense seem more abysmal than it actually is. To put it another way, there's a reason why this team has scored three runs or fewer in ten out of eleven games played.

Okay, okay - one of the reasons. The Nats are also tied for last in the NL in homers.

Update [2007-4-14 14:13:42 by Basil]: Bang! Zoom!

Dmitri Young HOMERS in this afternoon's second inning, and then Brian Schneider delivers a single with RISP, advancing Ryan Church to third, who then scores on . . . well, an RBI groundout by Chris Snelling. But it counts as a run in the record book!

Update [2007-4-14 14:48:58 by Basil]: TWO MORE HOMERS!

Church with a solo bomb, then Snelling with a two-run shot. And now El Duque's been ejected for hitting Shawn Hill. This will be discussed, I would imagine, right here.