Monday, August 25, 2008

Separating the Bad from the Truly Killing Us

One quick and easy way to gauge our strong and weak spots as an offense is to look at our team's performance by position compared to the league averages. We all know that Kearns has been a terrible and Flores has been solid, but by looking at the average offense by position, we can get a sense of who the real albatrosses are. Because if you're getting league average offense everywhere, you can expect to be about a .500 team (that's assuming your pitching is average too--but we're just looking at offense here).

The stat I like to best summarize overall offensive production is runs created (RC). After all, the team with the highest batting average or the most doubles doesn't win. It's the team with the most runs scored. RC is a quick and easy apples-to-apples measure that eliminates the biases and misconceptions we all have about the importance of baseball card stats like batting average, home runs, and RBI.

There are many ways to calculate RC, but they're all projections, looking at the player's performance and estimating the number of runs their production created for their team. I'm just using a really simple version: OBP x SLG x AB. Although there are far more sophisticated versions that factor in things like stolen bases or performance in the clutch, this one is close enough for my purpose here. (It projects for instance that the Nationals as a team as of 8/21 when I started putting this post together had scored 464 runs; in fact they'd scored 466.) RC also lets you get a rough sense of the number of wins and losses you're getting out of individual players' performance. For the Nationals, every 8 RC would mean another win.

Figuring RC by individual player split by the defensive position they were playing at the time is a fair bit more complicated, so I'm just looking at OBP and SLG at that level. I also note the percentage of the ABs at the position that each player has gotten. I dropped some guys who only had a couple at bats here or there, and there are some rounding errors, so the percentages don't all add up to 100.And again, I'm working from numbers as of 8/21, just because that's when I stared working on this post.

So with that out of the way, here it is.


NL 0.329 0.390 58.40
WAS 0.303 0.355 50.23

--Flores (55%): .271 / .316 / .427
--Nieves (22%): .284 / .339 / .373
--Lo Duca (14%): .203 / .320 / .266
--Estrada (9%): .140 / .159 / .140

Nieves and Flores together give us plenty to be at least average, maybe a tick above, but tut the 23% of the ABs that we wasted on Lo Duca and Estrada drag us 8 runs below average overall.

First Base

NL 0.356 0.465 79.52
WAS 0.369 0.398 66.82

--Young (28%): .288 / .384 / .400
--Johnson (23%): .219 / .420 / .438
--Boone (23%): .294 / .336 / .441
--Lo Duca (12%) .226 / .255 / .245
--Belliard (7%): .333 / .421 / .515
--Casto (7%): .182 / .308 / .242

Looking at Young, Johnson, Boone and Belliard, you kinda feel like we're doing ok at 1B. We're not. First base is one of the easiest positions to play defensively, and as a result you have to have a bopper. Twelve-plus RC below average is not good. But it's not our worst deficit.

Second Base

NL 0.332 0.406 67.51
WAS 0.303 0.347 52.36

--Lopez (58%): .250 / .319 / .351
--Belliard (20%): .216 / .296 / .412
--Bonifacio (17%): .241 / .277 / .342
--Harris (7%): .270 / .341 / .351

All told, we're 15 runs below average here. Hard to single out any one player, but Bonifacio is clearly the worst of the lot. At least he he's young. And catches the ball.

Third Base

NL 0.336 0.446 72.71
WAS 0.309 0.388 59.59

--Zimmerman (58%): .268 / .317 / .415
--Belliard (18%): .231 / .346 / .429
--Boone (11%) .176 / .218 / .314
--Casto (9%): .175 / .283 / .225

Another premium offensive position where we're getting hurt badly--13 runs below average, with Belliard actually our best run-producer. I'm not sweating this, because I'm pretty much convinced that Zimmerman is hurt.


NL 0.329 0.395 65.44
WAS 0.332 0.398 71.35

--Guzman (86%): .293 / .324 / .400
--Lopez (5%): .042 / .179 / .042
--Orr (4%) : .273 / .304 / .273
--Belliard (3%): .667 / .688 / .800
--Gonzalez (2%): .333 / .405 / .485

Shortstop is the only position on the diamond where we're above average in run production. Not by a ton--our 6-run advantage here doesn't even make up for what we're giving up at catcher. But Guzman's first half carried it, but a couple hot weeks from Belliard and Gonzalez helped keep us solidly over the line despite Felipe's line.

Left field

NL 0.352 0.460 79.08
WAS 0.285 0.326 43.67

--Pena (38%): .196 / .233 / .257
--Harris (28%): .211 / .289 / .383
--Langerhans (10%): .261 / .382 / .370
--Lopez (7%): .314 / .385 / .314
--Mackowiak (6%): .172 / .286 / .310
--Dukes (5%): .280 / .333 / .560
--Casto (4%): .150 / .292 / .200
--Lo Duca (3%): .385 / .385 / .462

Now this is brutal. Being 36 runs below
average is hard to fathom. Like 1B, this is an easy defensive position to play, so it's absolutely necessary to have a bopper at this position. Just getting average offense would have been worth 3-4 additional wins so far this year. Instead, it's hands down our worst offensive position, not just compared to what the rest of the league is doing but in absolute terms. And before you go complaining about injuries, remember--our first choice, Pena, got the plurality of the ABs.

Center field

NL 0.333 0.429 71.82
WAS 0.326 0.408 66.10

--Milledge (80%): .261 / .321 / .405
--Harris (11%): .357 / .471 / .643
--Bernadina (8%): .125 / .125 / .125

A little worse than five runs below average is still pretty bad, but by this measure it's our second best position. This again highlights though why it's so important for Milledge to be able to play centerfield defense. We're just a bit behind the pace here, but compare that 66 RC to what the league is getting out of right and LF and you can see clearly why Milledge isn't a winning corner OF. Recent stories about the Nationals' interest in Willy Taveras suggest the team's ready to pull the plug, but I hope they don't. Or if they do, Milledge shouldn't be counted on as more than a fourth outfielder.

Right field

NL 0.342 0.441 74.14
WAS 0.333 0.345 54.34

--Kearns (63%): .219 / .311 / .310
--Dukes (32%): .270 / .372 / .428

Other than LF, no position is hurting us worse than RF. And it's only saved from Pena-esque futility because of Dukes's strong performance. No player has put us at a greater disadvantage this season than Austin Kearns.

Pinch Hitting
League average: .228 / .315 / .344
Nationals: .230 / .324 / .399

Just for shits and grins, give your pinch-hitters a round of applause.

So summing it up, we're pretty much awful everywhere, which you knew. But, in order, the positions that are costing the most in terms of offense are: LF (-36), RF (-20), 2B (-16), 3B (-13), 1B (-12), C (-8), CF (-6), and SS (+6). (Again, every 8 runs or so for this team would mean another win.)


dale said...

Great work, SoCh!

How do we stink?
Let me count the ways....

I am finding your blog to be a pleasant surprise, filled with insightful data.

Hendo said...

Pretty nice work for a guy who's on vacation. (Yeah, I know, the miracle of pre-posting...)

So, using the 8-runs-a-win metric, it looks like if we were getting average performance from those positions, we'd be 59-71. Which is still a bunch of games below .500, which I guess we can attribute to the pitching.

Anonymous said...

Nice analysis SoCH.

Let's play two!


Mike said...

Something that's obvious, if not explicitly stated, is that RF is the only position listed that has had less than 3 different people play there. Two positions, 1B and LF, have had 6 and 8 respectively. How many other teams have had 8 different players roll through a (non-pitching) position this year? The sad part is that it's not all injury related.

Will said...

Mike, what I find most disconcerting, is the fact that we've only had 2 starters in RF. Austin Kearns has been dreadful, but he's still received the lion's share of playing time... actually all of it, since he was injured most of the time Dukes was playing in right.

Why have we tinkered so much with some positions, but left RF in the hands of one of the most harmful players (according to league average) on the team?

How much say does Manny have in Kearns starting and how much does Bowden have?

Also, great post! FJB has become one of the best Nats blogs- always an interesting read. Keep up the good work, and don't stop one Bowden's fired on Sept 29th (fingers crossed).

Mike said...

Absolutely agree. Kearns is playing himself out of the league at this point. Pat Burrell went through this in 2003 (though even that year he was more productive than Kearns this year). The thing is Burrell rebounded into a productive player. I don't see Kearns rebounding the same way. Plus he's getting a bit expensive in the next few years. $8 mil next year and then $10 mil club option in 2010 ($1 mil buyout). I just can't see the Nats picking up the option at this point.

Remember the outfield woes all stem from JimBo's perverse dream of reuniting that powerhouse Reds outfield of Kearns, WMP, and Dunn.

Steve Shoup said...

Excellent post, I think this helps debunk the theory that our offensive woes are attributed to our injuries. Guys like Pena, Kearns, and even Belliard at 2B (as well as Lopez and Lo Duca) have been grossly ineffective. And while all these players have spent time on the DL (except Lopez) they are veteran players who have regressed significantly. At least players like Flores, Bonifacio, Milledge and Dukes can hopefully get better. Guys like Flores and Milledge being near league average in their first full year as a starter is a good sign, hopefully they will continue to grow.

The scary thing is that with the exception of 1B we pretty much know our line-up for next year. Flores, Guz, Zim, Millege are locks. Bonafacio and belliard will handle 2b (and Belliard right now is our best option at first *gulp*). Kearns will likely be in right do to his contract and his defense. Dukes should man left though i tend not to assume too much with this team. This is not a good line-up going forward, esp. since Guzman will prob come back to earth some next year. The future does not look bright for the offense, as there are really no advanced top offensive prospects and outside of Zimmerman there are some question marks with all of Milledge, dukes, Bonifacio and Flores.

Will said...

Steve, I'm not picking on you, but I'm glad you said this:
"Kearns will likely be in right do to his contract and his defense."

I desperately hope that Kearns has been starting so often because of his defense and ONLY his defense. If JimBo and Manny have been giving Kearns playing time because he's got a hefty contract, I would be absolutely appalled. This would show a clear and shocking lack of knowledge of basic economics. When we signed Kearns to his extension, we basically created a howevermanymilliondollardeal worth of sunk costs (basically, we cannot get this money back. We have to either see his contract out or release him and eat it, especially since Kearns has no trade value). One of the basic principles of microeconomics, is that sunk costs should not influence your decisions. You've spent the money, you cannot get it back. So you would not "waste" money by not playing the guy, as you have already "wasted" the money by guaranteeing him a contract.
(This explains it better than I do,

It's not a perfect example of sunk costs, for example in not playing Kearns you must pay someone else to play RF, but for the most part it illustrates the concept. And for a GM (the guy who deals with the teams finances and works in the baseball market) not to understand this concept would be a disaster.
While there's no evidence that Bowden has been playing Kearns because he's making too much money not to start him, I suspect it's true. Why else would you consistently let this guy play only to go 1 for 5 everyday over 300+ ABs?

Sorry, long-winded economics lesson/Bowden-Kearns rant over.

Mike said...

I think it probably has less to do with contract ($5 mil this year) than the facts he plays good D and sets a good example for the younger guys. There was an anecdote earlier in the season about Kearns helping Milledge get a clue about which cut off man to throw too when Milledge was in that airmailing it all the place stage.

But for this season it doesn't matter anymore as dude just hit the DL for 2-4 weeks. With september call ups coming, maybe let's just let Kearns rest ...

Section 222 said...

Fascinating post. It confirms not only how bad WMP and Kearns were this year (I can use the past tense for both since Kearns was just put on the DL and I doubt we'll see him back this year), but also how much they hurt the team. I think it's clear that Dukes should be our rightfielder of the future. He has the arm and the speed to play the position well, and we need to find an even bigger bat to play the easier outfield position in left.

Another thing this analysis really puts on the front burner is 1st base. Even a healthy Nick Johnson with all his walks is just not productive enough to anchor the first great Nationals team. There are a whole lot of holes for the team to fill. Contending in 2011 seems like a pipedream at this point.