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Washington Nationals Stats: 2012 First Quarter Report Card

"Rizzo said he'd buy me a snow cone if I got all As!" (Not an actual quote.)
"Rizzo said he'd buy me a snow cone if I got all As!" (Not an actual quote.)

We're 41 games into the season, Nats fans, a quarter of the way through this year's 162. That means that it's time for Doghouse's arbitrary and capricious team report card! I'm going to summarize overall performance, offense, starting pitching, relief pitching and luck with a letter grade for each. A "C" is league average, an "A" is a World Series contender, and an "F" is the 2008 or 2009 Nats.

Overall: A-

Let's start with the overall grade. This isn't the average of the other grades--it's the grade on overall performance. Right now the Nats are 24-17. They're second place (1.5 games out of first) in the tough NL East, the only division with every team at .500 or better (and everyone better than .500 except the last-place Phillies). They're 3rd in the NL overall and leading the WC race by 2 games. Last season they were just under .500 about this time, just below the middle of the division and the league. This has been without Michael Morse and Drew Storen all season, and despite losing Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Brad Lidge, and Jayson Werth for parts of the first 41. With the team's recent struggles, they're exactly average by Simple Rating System, but they're in solid contention for the division title and leading the expanded WC race. That's an A-, nearly two full grades higher than last season's first-quarter "C."

After the jump, grades for offense, starters, relievers, fielding, and luck. Stats through the games of May 20, courtesy fangraphs and baseball-reference.

Offense: D+

The Nationals have been struggling a little with the bat, managing a 92 wRC+ so far this season, which is a hair below average (thanks to last night's hit-fest) and 8th in the league. The team's hitting line is .245/.317/.390, which is 10th in AVG, 8th in OBP, and 7th in SLG. They have 39 HRs so far, which is 5th in the NL. The Nats have stolen 20 bases, (4th fewest in the league) and been caught stealing 13 times (5th most). The team is striking out the 4th most in the league (21.5%), but walking the 6th most, too (9.0%). Team baserunning (apart from SB) is has been worth 3.1 runs below average, 4th worst in the league. The Nats have the 3rd-lowest percentage of baserunners who eventually score (12%). Overall, they're scoring 3.78 runs/game, 5th-worst (NL average is 4.07). They're not worst in the league anymore, but the roughly-league-average fundamentals have only given below-average results so far. You're not living up your potential, young man!

Starting pitching: A

The starters are 2nd in ERA (2.77) and first in FIP (2.86) and xFIP (3.09). The rotation gives up the second-fewest HRs (0.68 per 9 IP), strikes out the most hitters (23.9%) and walks the second-fewest hitters (6.2%). They allow the fewest baserunners in the league, with a 1.03 WHIP. They have 68% of starts being Quality Starts (3rd best), and starters are averaging 6.1 IP per start (just above league average). The only thing keeping them from perfection is number of innings per start.

Relief pitching: B

The bullpen has done pretty well, despite not having Storen and losing Lidge after a few games. The relievers are 5th in ERA (3.33) and 2nd in FIP (3.07), but 10th in xFIP (3.75). They're striking out the 4th-most batters (23.3%) but walking the 6th-most (10.2%). Overall, they allow the 3rd-fewest baserunners (1.26 WHIP). When it come to results, they've put together 50 shutdowns (best in NL) and 19 meltdowns (6th best) in 113 appearances. If you prefer saves, they've converted 68% (7th). The bullpen has only let 23% of inherited runners come around (4th best). For all that we wail and gnash our teeth when Henry Rodriguez is wild, the bullpen is solidly above league average. Just as an aside, the Nationals' bullpen has the highest average leverage index (a stat the measures how critical the game situation is in terms of runners on, close score, etc) in the league--"interesting" in true Nats bullpen tradition.

Fielding: C+

We've seen some circus plays recently, and it's showing in the grade. The Nats are middle-of-the-pack by the conventional stats, with a better-than-average error total (26, tied for 6th-best) and FP (.983, 7th). The advanced stats have the Nats below average so far: 4.1 runs below average by UZR, 2 runs below average by Total Zone Runs, and a baffling 30 runs below average by Defensive Runs Saved. In spite of that, the Nats are converting fully 71.5% of balls in play into outs, which is the second-best defensive efficiency rating in the league. Combined with the pitching, the Nats are only allowing 3.34 runs per game, best in the NL! We've got what look to be decent outcomes in spite of some poor fundamentals. Lets call it just above average.

Luck: Somewhat Lucky

Luck isn't really something we're grading on, but it gives an indication of how likely the team is to continue at the same level of performance ("lucky" means you might do worse going forward, but "unluck" means you might do better). Looking at the plate, the Nats have a .293 batting average on balls in play (BAbip--which you might think of as "hitting luck"). That's almost exactly league average (.295). The pitchers have been a bit lucky in addition to being good, with 74.2% of baserunners being stranded, 5th highest in the NL and a bit above the 72.6% league average. Staff ERA (3.01) is almost exactly where their FIP (2.98) is, although both are about 0.3 runs better than their xFIP (3.34), hinting at a bit of luck keeping HRs down. BAbip against is .267, which is 2nd lowest in the NL and well below the NL average of .292. Finally, the Nats "expected" record based on runs scored and allowed is 23-18, which means they're 1 win luckier than their run differential. That's neutral on hitting, lucky on pitching, and slightly lucky on record.

So, how are we doing?

Here's the comparison of the report card from last year at this time and this one.

2011 2012
Overall C- A-
Offense F D+
Starters C A
Bullpen C- B
Fielding B C+
Luck Neutral A bit lucky

The team has jumped up 1 to 2 full grades in every category but fielding--and the fielding grade may be more an artifact of how noisy the advanced defensive stats are, since the overall results are good. Pitching leads everything, but the offense has room to improve with Morse coming back, and the bullpen can look forward to Storen's return. We may see some regression to the mean going forward, but late-season WC contention doesn't seem so silly at this point.

(Updated to correct the R/G allowed stat, which is currently best in the NL at 3.34 runs/game.)