Great win this morning! First place!
But I said I would get on the hitting and dammit if I won't just do that.
As I said before the season, this offense was built with the idea that you had potentially 7 above average bats, with only Denard Span not fitting that definition. There wasn't exactly a proven star among these players, some were too injury-prone to count on, others too young, but that's ok. Chances are with that many above average bats, that someone would have a big year and even if they didn't an offense without any real holes can still be potent. That is a perfectly good line-up plan... assuming everyone stays healthy. Of course they didn't and hence the Nats are at a point where they are scoring 3 or 4 runs on a good day and that's probably not good enough to win it all.
(Yes, it will change - we'll get to that though) First, let's just mention the obvious issues.
Denard Span hits first - We can argue how good a hitter Denard Span is. Is he bad? Is he average? (No and No - something in between) but what we can't argue about is that having Denard hit first, especially when the team is mostly healthy, is sub optimal. At best he's the 7th most potent bat in the line-up, he does not get on base (58th out of 83 qualified NL batters), he does not take pitches (75th). He does nothing but give the Nats an extra out or two a week than they might not have had if he was batting at the bottom of the order.
Danny Espinosa is no longer a major league hitter - Some people think Danny's defense makes it worthwhile for him to play everyday. I'd love to believe that. But since a quick first 20 games, Danny has hit an ice-cold .201 / .262 / .324 in his next 51. That's an OPS of .586 which is basically the bottom of the NL. That's just not good enough to play every day. Can he hit better? I don't know and I certainly can't depend on it. The numbers I just mentioned are actually better than last year.
Jose Lobaton is not a starter - It's not his fault. He's just not. But he wasn't meant to be. What he is, is someone that shouldn't embarrass you at the plate in case your catcher has to miss some time. That worked out at first, but not so much now. His line as a starter is down to .211 / .284 / .305. Should it get better with more time? I'd think so, but it could still be well below average. So it goes when you are depending on bench players.
Right now, the Nats are rocking a 7-8-9-1 that is among the worst in the NL. There's not too much the Nats can do about the latter two. Injuries have forced their hand. Moving Span will help, but very little, and it's certainly not a cure-all. It would be hard to cover this with great bats 2-6. And the Nats don't have that.
The good news is that Rendon and LaRoche look fine, even better than that at times, but Rendon is not quite great yet and LaRoche is falling back to his level in fits and starts. I wouldn't expect them to carry the team. We all know Zimmerman is struggling coming back from injury and there are two more "secret" issues that the Nats are dealing with.
One is Jayson Werth's lack of power. Jayson Werth hitting .271 with an OBP at .352 is only very mildly disappointing to anyone that looks at his history. He never was a .320 type hitter and last year stood out as an anomaly. No, .270s is more his style - maybe into the .290s in a good year, years which at 35 most assume are coming to an end relatively soon. He always could take a walk but that skill is fading too as pitchers realize they don't have to walk him. His isoOBP (how much he gets on base taking out the hits) has trended down for a while now and at .081 is almost the lowest he's posted in his career. It's still a good number though and it's a slow decline.
What's really the issue with Werth is his lack of power. The HR issue is obvious as he's on pace for under 15 homers for the year. But he's also hitting doubles at a lower rate than he has since that terrible first year in DC. Combined he has the lowest isoSLG (slugging taking out the singles) in his career. More disturbing though is the trend.
Nats fans wanted to believe that his power issues were all injury related and that once the wrist healed he'd be slugging again. Maybe they even were mostly that. But some part of it is simply the aging process and you can't look at the above and not think 2013 stands out as a fluke. As Werth has gotten older he's having trouble slugging.
You could blame a big drop in HR/FB rate (at 6.1% now) but that could be explained by getting older. You see the same general downward trend in that stat when you exclude 2013. You could blame it on big drop in LD% leading to fewer gap hits, but last year's 26% was high for him and this year's 19% is right on target with most of his career. BABIP is fine. He's hitting like he always has hit - he just isn't getting the same results off the bat.
You may be able to look positively at his HR distance (401). That's in line with LaRoche and Rendon. But I can explain that away (Rendon is less a HR hitter than a LD masher - LaRoche has a 336 ft HR that drags his numbers way down) and Werth has yet to crush one (414 is his longest which struggles to make the Top 20% of homers in distance). If I were to guess I would say he should hit a homers at a slightly better pace, but only slightly better.
This is an issue that injury returns won't help. Jayson is still a guy you want out there. He does a lot of things right and overall should still be better than average this year. But he's 35. Anyone in your mid 30s can tell you it's hard to do things you could do with ease in your mid 20s. Don't expect a big comeback, instead hope for a small bump in power, enough to keep his head above water.
You know, this is getting long so we'll tackle Ian Desmond and the injury returnees tomorrow.