From the start of his second season on the bench with Washington, Nationals' skipper Matt Williams has talked this Spring about wanting to improve offensive efficiency.
"Our offensive efficiency, we can get better at," Williams said last month.
"Every team can. But what we want to accomplish, what we want to concentrate on is maintaining the fact that we were good in a couple of areas, continue to work on those and improve on the others and make sure that we're giving ourselves the best chance every day."
What he means when he says "offensive efficiency"?
"It's situational hitting," Williams explained. "It's understanding themselves, first and foremost. 'What do I do best and what do I [not do well]?' Understanding the opposition. What are they going to try to do to our guys with a man on third base and less than two outs? If we understand what they are going to try to accomplish and we can combat that, then we may be able to get better."
The Nationals' .253/.321/.393 regular season line was good for 5th/4th/5th in the National League, their 152 home runs were the fourth-most, their 686 runs scored were also the NL's fourth-most, their 99 wRC+ too were 4th in the NL, behind the Giants, 101, Pittsburgh Pirates, 108 and Los Angeles Dodgers, 110.
The Nats were also fifth in the NL in strikeouts (with 1,304 Ks).
Their 328 Ks with runners in scoring position were the fifth highest in the National League.
Their 1,160 runners left on base were the second-most, behind only the Dodgers in the NL.
In the postseason, the Nationals scored just nine runs in four games, though San Francisco scored just nine as well, and the Nats lost three one-run games.
Williams was asked today if he'd looked back to the Nationals' NLDS loss to the Giants and come to any conclusions about what went wrong offensively and how they could improve?
"We concentrate on it," he said. "Our offensive efficiency is important and you don't turn it on and off."
"There was a lot of discussion about how many days off we had in-between," Williams continued, referring to the four days off between Game 162 of the regular season and the first postseason game.
"Nonetheless, it's our job to stay as fresh as we can. I believe we did everything we could possibly do, including having an intrasquad game at a high competitive level with the announcer and crowd noise and everything else.
"I mean, we simulated all we could simulate. At the same time, it's not the same. Nothing is ever the same as standing out there and having an opposing jersey on the other team.
"But reflecting, you can reflect all you want, but if you do that, then you're stuck in that spot. We want to move forward. So, all that being said, would we trade anything from last year in winning the division? No. We wouldn't. We would want it the same way. If we could snap our fingers and get a few months down the road, we would want it the same way.
"Beyond that, we didn't match up against those particular pitchers very well. The numbers didn't say that we matched up very well offensively against those guys. So all of those things combined and the fact that we just didn't get a whole bunch of hits. But we would certainly love the opportunity to be back there again and see if we could improve on that, for sure."
Stressing the messages he wants to get through to his players from the start is a big focus as it was last Spring, and the hope is that it carries over to Grapefruit League games, regular season games and the postseason.
"It's not a light switch, so you can't change on the fly," he explained. "What I think we try to do is have that general philosophy going in that regardless of whether it was Game 1 of Spring Training, Opening Day, last game of the season, playoff, whatever it is, the game is the same. You must do things correctly if you're going to win that game and it doesn't change just because there's a brighter light or whether it's a Spring Training game. The intensity needs to be there. We need to be in that moment and make it important. And we do. We make it very important for our club and we will continue to do so. That's one of the reasons that we, in the regular season last year, won as many games as we did, because it's really important to us."
Williams said that increased contact, (cutting down on Ks), was part of improving offensive efficiency.
"That's part of it. We stress that. We stress doing the little things within the game that we can do to give ourselves opportunities to score runs.
"I mean, it was like a broken record last year, but it's really true that we need to pick up the ones that we can pick up, and put ourselves in a position that allows us to do that. With our stolen base efficiency and advancing a base on a dirt ball or whatever it is.
So all of things combined allow us to have more opportunity and that's all we look for. And then, of course, we need to get'er done when we have that opportunity, so we concentrate hard on that."
Will having Ryan Zimmerman (hopefully healthy) for a whole season and Yunel Escobar (who doesn't strike out a lot), help?
"Contact is one thing. Proper contact is another. Zim is proven. Yunel is proven. They're long-time major leaguers, so they understand. So that certainly helps. Everybody is going to punch out. It's part of the game. It happens. But we want to try to make sure we maximize our chances. If we have chances, if the opposing team gives us that chance to score a run, we want to take advantage of it, and manufacture some too."