There are many factors that can explain why the Washington Nationals are sitting at .500 as the calendar approaches August. Some of the most commonly discussed include a long list of injuries, an offense that’s struggled to hang crooked numbers up on the scoreboard and a starting rotation failing to live up to expectations.
Perhaps the most infuriating downfall of this team, however, has been the baserunning. The Nationals lead the NL in outs made on the basepaths (caught stealing, pickoffs and miscues with the ball in play) with 73 — just one behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the most in baseball.
“Part of our offense is to create havoc,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters in June. “We’ve got guys that can run. I want them to be aggressive, but I want them also to be aggressively smart.”
To their credit, the Nationals are tied for the fourth-most stolen bases in the majors with 71 and have the seventh-ranked caught-stealing percentage (76 percent). Yet a majority of those stolen bases have come courtesy of Michael Taylor (24 SBs) and Trea Turner (22), as only one other player on the team has swiped more than five.
Taylor and Turner’s 46 combined steals give them the most by any pair of teammates in baseball. Among clubs with at least 25 stolen bases on the year, the Nationals have the fourth-highest percentage of those SBs coming from their top two base stealers (64.8 percent).
So when those two are taken out of the equation, the rest of the team looks much worse. According to Baseball-Reference’s baserunning WAR statistic, there isn’t a single player on the Nationals with at least 100 plate appearances not named Turner or Taylor worth positive value.
The biggest culprits are Howie Kendrick (-1.9 WAR), Daniel Murphy (-1.3) and Bryce Harper (-0.8). While Kendrick suffered a season-ending Achilles injury back in May, Murphy and Harper don’t come as much of a surprise.
Murphy has been thrown out on multiple occasions attempting to test his surgically repaired knee by going from first to third on a ball hit into the outfield. Although he’s played many more games, Harper has stuffed the stat sheet as well with two instances of being caught stealing, one pickoff and four outs on balls in play.
“I don’t want to take away their aggressiveness, but I want them to learn when a good time is and when not a good time is to go,” Martinez said.
The Nationals are six games back in the NL East and have just as many teams standing in between them and the second Wild Card spot. If they’re going to claw their way up the latter, they can’t afford to keep handing opposing teams free outs.
If the offense doesn’t start to score runs consistently and the rotation can’t find ways to go deep into games, this team isn’t going to be making any sort of playoff run. If they continue to run into outs on the basepaths on top of it all, the Nationals will be left in the dust by September.
“In Spring Training, I always told them our objective is to get to third base with less than two outs,” Martinez said. “If we get to third base with less than two outs, we’ll score some runs, so they get it. That’s what they’re really trying to do.”