Good Ol' Needham notes that "Hey, the offense will probably suck this year because nobody gets on base". He's right but that doesn't mean the offense can't be better. Last year the Nats offense scored 655 runs, good for 14th in the NL. However, it really wasn't significantly worse that the 11th place team (Dodgers - 667) and it was significantly better than the 15th place team (Houston - 611). Meaning what? Let's not make it out to be more than it is. The Nats weren't the worstesest but they were stuck in a glob of teams with well below average offenses.
How can the Nats get unstuck from this morass of mediocre mashers? Let's look at the OBP and SLG lines for each position from last year and think if the Nats can beat that line this year. (Yes, I should be looking at isoOBP and isoSLG but that's a lot more work for not much gain)
C: .285 / .352 - Depends on how much Ramos plays. Pudge is no better than this, probably worse. Ramos will beat that slugging given enough opportunity. The OBP maybe, but probably not by much. He was the kind of guy that would bat .310 and have an OBP of .340 in the minors. He's not batting .310 this year.
1B: .358 / .533 - I'm going to compare Dunn to Werth rather than LaRoche, because that's how I see it. Werth=Dunn, LaRoche=Willingham. Werth will have a hard time matching the slugging of Dunn, even with generally a higher average year in and year out, Jayson only hit Dunnian levels of slugging last season. He should get on base more than Dunn though, thanks to Dunn's low batting average.
2B: .312 / .350 - Espinosa is most likely a minor popper with patience who can't hit for average. He should best the SLG, but the OBP is roughly where he'll fall. It'll be with a decent amount of walks though since he'll hit like .240.
SS: .317 / . 394 - Can Desmond beat Desmond? I don't know. Everyone else who played SS last year actually raised the OBP and SLG of the position, so I'll bet on "No", but it'll be basically the same.
3B: .370 / .473 - Can Ryan beat Ryan? Last year was his best average and OBP year so far, but he's slugged better. I think he can beat that SLG number and raise the position with him. (the non-Ryans must have been terrible to bring down the numbers this far in like 15% of the at bats)
RF: .327 / .439 - I'll put Morse in here, since LaRoche is going to go up against LF. The odds are yes, he can beat both these numbers, though it probably won't be by as much as people were hoping.
CF: .310 / .303 - Ankiel and Hairston are so terrible at getting on base that they should actually get on base less than the Nyjer Morgan led CFers did last year and at times it seemed like those guys were trying NOT to get on base. Ankiel's bat should easily best the SLG, though Hairston's bat won't help much with that either.*
LF: .352 / .436 - The OBP is a little high for Adam, the slugging is a little low. He's not necessarily better than Willingham. In fact I'll just come out and say it - he's not better than Willingham, BUT he is better than 110 games of Willingham and 50 games of filler. That's the risk you take with Josh.
The end result? Just as Chris said - nobody is getting on base for the Nationals this year. They'll probably see minor gains at catcher, WerthvDunn, and "Morse-field" but that'll be offset by minor losses in the LaRoche v Willingham, et. al. battle and in center. The rest will float around the same numbers. They will see improvement though and it will be in slugging. They should see gains at catcher, second, Laroche over Willingham+, and a big gain in center. I also wouldn't be surprised if Ryan upped his slugging a bit this year. This will more than offset the loss in slugging the Nats will see moving from Dunn to Werth.
It's a better offense this year. Not much better (OBP is more impt than SLG) but maybe enough to move them to the top of the morass of mediocre mashing. That's a start, I guess.
*Can I rant again how ridiculous it is that Hairston is platooning for a major league team in center field in the year 2011? This is a guy who hasn't been a starter since 2005. Who's been good one year since 2006. Who's only played more than 22 games in center ONE SEASON in his career. And yet here he is for the 2011 Nats, primed to play about a quarter of the games in most important outfiled position. I thought the Nats topped themselves last year when they brought in Willy Taveras and didn't cut him immediately, but a platoon with Hairston? How do they beat this next year?