There’s a feeling that every single baseball fan, or any sports fan for that matter, can relate to. You see a player’s name in the lineup or hear their name announced over the speakers and you think “oh no, not this guy again. He always comes up big against us.”
It doesn’t matter how well the team or player is doing, there’s always a feeling of inevitability when that player steps up to the plate that they’re going to make something happen.
While Major League Baseball continues to have its labor dispute, we take a deep dive into some of the players who upped their game against the Washington Nationals for no reason whatsoever and have their names remembered for the wrong reasons at Nats Park.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll count down the top five Nats-killers, each with their own separate piece to dive deep into their stats and big moments against Washington.
First up, let’s look at the criteria for how we selected the top five in the list...
Active players only
We want this list to be current and remember this series when the players in question step up to the plate at Nationals Park in the future.
Sorry, Carl Crawford and Jim Edmonds, two of the bigger Nat-killers of years gone by, you aren’t going to be appearing on this list.
To keep this simple and make direct comparisons easier, we’re going to stick with just hitters for this. Especially as a pitcher’s collective stats in a small-ish sample will be a lot more volatile than a hitter’s.
Minimum of 50 plate appearances
This feels like a reasonable sample size which should prevent players from jumping onto the list on the basis of a couple of great games. There has to be at least a small level of sustained performance against the Nats for this.
A wRC+ of at least 180 against the Nationals
Now we have our player pool and a minimum number of plate appearances to give us a reasonable sample size to base this off, how do we start picking out the best performers?
Obviously, we’ll be looking at all stats when comparing the top few candidates, but wRC+ is a good statistic to use as a starting point for this.
wRC+ takes into account all ways that a player can contribute at the plate, Park Factor, and the rest of the league’s offensive performance, making it good for comparing different seasons. Then it normalizes it to make 100 league-average and how much more productive the player has been compared to the rest of the league in that span.
Finally, we need a benchmark figure. While FanGraphs suggests that a wRC+ of 160 is excellent, looking at the wRC+ leaders from the last 10 162-game seasons, their average wRC+ comes to 179.
So, a wRC+ of at least 180 against the Nationals means that these players have all hit like the best hitter in the league in those given games. Pretty scary.
Must have much better numbers against the Nats than everyone else
This is one of the key factors in separating the player from being just really good in general to a player who really springs into action against the Nationals for no reason whatsoever.
Take Mike Trout as an example. He has a fantastic 165 wRC+ against the Nationals in limited time against them in his career. But also, you know, he’s Mike Trout. So that 165 figure is actually lower than his career wRC+ of 172!
Therefore, we’re looking for players who are much better against the Nats than every other team.
Must have at least one signature moment against the Nationals
Look, it’s all well and good picking up hit after hit in the early innings, but the true Nats-killers will all have at least one signature moment that truly won their team a given game where Nationals fans look back and shiver a little bit thinking about it.
This isn’t just limited to walk-off hits or go-ahead hits, but just big hits in general in the late innings of games that have an impact on the outcome. The sort of hit that if a player keeps producing will linger in the back of a fan’s mind every time they step to the plate.
Honorable mentions and near-misses
While this series is only going to cover the Top 5 in detail with a piece of their own, here are some other names that fell short based on the criteria we’ve set for these Nats-killers...
When I put out a tweet last week about this subject, Freddie Freeman was, by far and away, the player who came up most amongst Nationals fans when they had to think of Nats-killers.
Somewhat surprisingly though, his wRC+ of 143 is only a little above his career figure of 138. Turns out that Freeman is actually just really really good at this baseball thing, not only against the Nats, though it certainly feels like he steps it up when he comes to Washington.
One of Freeman’s former Braves teammates also seemed to come off the bench or have a spot start against the Nationals and tear the cover off the ball.
In the end, Culberson fell just short of the wRC+ mark with a 169 figure against the Nationals and was probably a bit short on plate appearances to crack the top five too.
Though he didn’t share a division with the Nationals during the early part of his career, McCutchen has made a habit of torturing Washington with both the Pittsburgh Pirates and, more recently, the Philadelphia Phillies.
He’s no stranger to big hits either. Even just last season, he had four go-ahead hits against them for the Phillies, including a three-run, walk-off home run on July 26th that effectively put the nail in the coffin for the Nationals and helped send them on their mass rebuild.
Unfortunately, like the rest of the players in this section, he just falls short of the wRC+ requirement, coming in with a wRC+ of 164 against the Nationals. Still great, just not quite enough.
In terms of the players getting an honorable mention and those in the top five, Stanton’s 477 plate appearances trail only Freeman. In those plate appearances, he sports a fearsome 167 wRC+ that no doubt accounts for plenty of gargantuan home runs against the Nats.
Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera
I’ll group these two together because the reason they fall short is exactly the same.
Both have extensive experience against the Nationals with north of 200 plate appearances and they both hit exceptionally against them with wRC+ figures of 202 and 198 respectively.
The thing is, both of them were the best hitter in baseball during their primes. So in reality, their performance against the Nats isn’t actually that far above how they did against everyone else, so they miss out here.
Pete (F’n) Kozma
Well, if the requirement was just to have a signature moment, then this guy might have been top of the entire list. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of that particular hit.
Aside from that hit, Kozma still hit well against the Nationals in the regular season, going 13-for-31 with a 149 wRC+ in 43 plate appearances, compared to his 53 career wRC+. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite good enough to crack our criteria for overall performance.
How about a very recent addition to the list of Nats-killers with the New York Mets’ utility man.
In his career against the Nationals, Davis has a strong 161 wRC+ and more than his fair share of big hits, including a late go-ahead home run in that infamous series at Citi Field where the Mets swept the Nationals and dropped them to 19-31. I wonder what happened after that...
In our next piece in this series, we’ll start our countdown of the top five Nats-killers. Here’s a clue as to who sits at #5: Despite only being a bit-part player so far in his big league career, this player has an International Fan Club after making some friends in the stands during a game in 2019...