Nats lost last night. Again.
But like I said the other day a loss for the Nats is a minor annoyance. As long as the night doesn't end with the Nats loss / Braves win combination, it's actually an overall win for the Nats. The Nats remain X games ahead and the Braves lose a game in which they could possibly come back. Unless you are obsessed with NLCS home field advantage, today is a good day.
The offense is going through one of it's dry spells. Can I take a moment to call out my own private MASN commenters, those that love Denard Span? Again going over all the caveats - Span should start, Span should be re-signed, overall Span makes the team better because he fields and runs well - I'd like to point out this:
34 games from July1-Aug10 : .399 / .462 / .464
97 other games : .259 / .304 / .372
Why is it I'm called out as if I'm waiting for the brief moment Span does bad (hitting .226 / 262 / .290 in the last 15 games), when it's pretty obvious it's the opposite? I'm using a much bigger sample to come to my conclusion that the "eh Span" is the real Span. He does get super hot at times (so the 97 numbers aren't 100% fair either) but for the most part is a mediocre singles hitter. This isn't me. This is his last 2800 plate appearances talking. He may have a slightly better overall year in 2014. That's great! But don't try to turn that into him being a good offensive hitter.
A far more reasonable "How good IS he" question is the one regarding with Adam LaRoche because he's been all over the place since 2009. This is crucial to figure out because he's up for a 3rd year option.
Looking at OPS+ you'd probably default to him being a 120+ OPS player which is good to very good. He was that in 2009, 2012, and this year. 2011 is easily ignored as an injury lost year so you only have to reconcile the more mediocre 2010 season (under the free-swinging D-backs influence is how I'd do it) and 2013 (ummmmmm).
But there's an issue in that his offensive presence has changed. He was previously relying on his pop to be his selling point, but this year he really upped his patience. Before he was a 65 BB guy who hit 25+ homers a year. Does the fact that he may now be an 85+ BB guy, but ~20 HR guy change what you think about him?
You might have noticed that I went from 25-26 homers to say... 19-23. Not a huge drop really to change a profile. Really what's disappearing though isn't the homers. He was an exactly 25 homer guy for a number of years. His 33 in 2012 was clearly an anomaly and the 20 he hit last year was probably a couple low because of luck. His HR/FB% is consistent and the distance of his homers still looks good. He's probably not going much under 20 if he does do that. Really what's plummeted are the doubles. Excluding 2011 of course, he hit between 35 and 42 doubles every year but one from 2006 through 2012 and in that off year he "only" hit 32. But last year he hit a mere 19 (with 3 triples) and this hasn't changed much as he has only 19 so far. He'll probably end up with 23 or so. That's where the loss of power is really coming from.
(FWIW His batting average has been pretty steady and the BABIP seems generally what I would expect based on aging and previous numbers so I think .270-.260 slowly drifting down is right. )
He's been a rather consistent hitter in his HR/FB% and types of hits (LD/GB/FB breakdown), so it's not that that's changing the results for doubles. Most likely it the fact that he's always been slow and now he's reached an age where it's finally taking away his ability to leg out some doubles he could have 3 years ago. You'd want to say he's becoming a "true outcome" guy, the type that homers, walks, or strikes out, but he doesn't really strike out THAT much or walk that much, even with the improvement. It's more of a middle ground that still works. Hits some singles, hits some homers, walks enough. For 2014 at least.
And let's not discount the increase in walks just because it isn't a ton. The Nats are a decent walking team on the whole but really only Werth and LaRoche use walks reliably to get on base. Bryce might get there but if you lose LaRoche it'll drop to straight up middle of the pack.
My personal opinion is you do re-sign him. I know the Nats need 1B space, for Zimm, for Werth (the guy is becoming a statue) and possibly for Ramos (injuries, injuries), but for one more year and considering the other options out there, I don't see how you can let him go. I think the walk increase isn't a fluke. The fancy stats tell us he's swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and it's something that he did succesfully before in 2011 to mitigate his other issues (not nearly enough but still). I think he can walk more when he wants to and now he wants to. With the batting average and power probably staying about the same, it's worth it. I wouldn't want to have him 3 years from now, when the HR power finally starts to go and his age starts costing him singles along with doubles, but in 2015. Yes.