Now that the Washington Nationals have gotten just over a week’s worth of games under their belt, it seems like a decent time to start investigating how they’re doing — and why their record is several games below .500.
While we look at some of these numbers, it’s important to note that because of COVID issues, the roster wasn’t fully healthy for the first week of games.
There are a few stats that I think are worth checking from a total team standpoint. It’s also important to note that the problems this early in the season may run deeper than what some of the stats suggest; it could also be true that the problems are actually shallower than what the stats suggest.
Firstly, one of my personal favorites: wRC+. As a team, the Nationals currently have a 90 wRC+, with higher being better, and 100 being average. That number ties them for 18th in baseball with the Giants.
With a .695 OPS, the Nationals are ranked in the dead-middle of all 30 teams, coming in at 15th.
By this metric, the Mets and Braves outrank the Nats, while the Marlins and Phillies fall below them.
With the introduction of Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to the lineup, fans are hoping that these numbers will clean themselves up a bit. As far as OPS is concerned, a mark around .710 could get the job done; for wRC+, a mark of around 105-110 should be good enough. Both of those numbers would put them in the top-third of teams around baseball.
Broken down simply by “all” pitchers (i.e., starters and relievers), the Nationals have a 5.34 ERA, which is the second-worst output in baseball, trailing only the Athletics. All NL East adversaries post marks much better than this, with the closest being the Braves. Atlanta, however, is pitching nearly a run better than Washington early on.
To determine whether or not ERA is indicative of what the Nationals are actually doing, we turn our attention to FIP. With a 4.78 FIP, the Nationals should be about half a run better than what they’re currently producing; by that number, they’re still in the bottom third of baseball, however, mingling in the middle of the Orioles and Diamondbacks.
Finally, the team’s xFIP is 4.52, meaning by each of those metrics, the staff is expected to be marginally better, but are never able to claw themselves out from the bottom third of baseball.
As of this writing, the Nationals are 2-6. This isn’t a surprise. The team’s x/W-L number is also 2-6 thanks to their massive -18 run differential, which is the worst in baseball. The second worst team in baseball by that metric is the Pirates (-15).
As is evidenced by the numbers, it’s been a rough start to the year for the Nationals.
Whether or not this is COVID-related is another story, but the truth is this: This is an exceptionally bad year to begin the season on the wrong foot. With how good the NL East is, every game is going to matter; moreover, when you’re in a dogfight with your division all year, claiming a Wild Card spot becomes exponentially harder, particularly when the Padres are looming in the West and the Central is a laughingstock (meaning an average Central team might have a cakewalk to the second WC spot).
The Nationals have time to right the ship, but they’re going to need to do it quickly. Under normal circumstances, a slow start can often be easily overcome. But in a division where almost everybody is vying for the top spot, slow starts can be deadly.