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July 4, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

Ten splits

I spent some time at baseball-reference.com looking at the Nationals’ team batting and pitching splits. Trying to focus on the splits that are relevant to evaluating the team’s strengths and weaknesses, here are ten things that I learned:

1. The Nats have hit better than average at two positions—second base and left field.

Nats second basemen (96% Danny Espinosa) rank fifth among major league teams and second in the NL (behind only Milwaukee) with an OPS of .777, which compares to the major league average for second basemen of .688.

Nats left fielders rank fourth in the majors and third in the NL (behind St. Louis and Milwaukee) with an OPS of .803, which compares to the Major League Baseball average for left fielders of .721. Obviously, this mostly comes from Laynce Nix, with his OPS of .928 while playing LF. Somewhat surprisingly, Jerry Hairston, Jr. also contributed to this split with an OPS of 1.055 in his 40 plate appearances as a left fielder.

2. The Nats first basemen have been average in hitting. The team has had below-average hitting at the other positions, with their worst performance coming at shortstop.

Nationals shortstops (90% Ian Desmond) rank 28th of the 30 teams in MLB and 15th in the NL (ahead of only Cincinnati) with an OPS of .576, which compares to the MLB average for shortstops of .693. Our catchers rank 18th, first basemen 14th, third basemen 24th, center fielders 27th, and right fielders 23rd.

3. Nats pitchers, when hitting, have been below average.

Our pitchers rank 13th in the NL in hitting with an OPS of .278, which compares to the MLB average for pitchers of .334. This one actually surprised me, since three of our starters—Liván Hernández, Jason Marquis, and Jordan Zimmermann—are pretty good hitters. The problem is that our southpaw pitchers—John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny—have been awful; they are hitless in 51 combined at bats.

4. Our leadoff hitters have been atrocious.

Nats leadoff hitters have been by far the worst in MLB, with an OBP of .267 (the next worst is Oakland with .297) and an OPS of .570 (the next worst are the White Sox with .612). In comparison, the average MLB leadoff hitter has an OBP of .328 and OPS of .718. Literally everyone that the Nats have tried leading off has been awful there—Jayson Werth’s OPS in the leadoff spot is .587, Roger Bernadina’s is .585, Espinosa’s is .579, and Desmond’s is .512.

A perhaps even more amazingly awful split is that the Nats’ first batter in the game has an OBP of .188 and an OPS of .405—both statistics easily the worst in baseball, far below the MLB averages of .317 and .699. Given the Nats’ leadoff woes, it’s not surprising that they have scored only 28 runs in the first inning (tied for 26th among MLB teams).

5. The Nats have also been below average in production from the # 2, 3, and 4 spots in the batting order.  

Our # 2 hitters (most often, Desmond) have an OPS of .620, ranking 25th. Our # 3 hitters (most often, Werth) have an OPS of .716, ranking 21st. Our # 4 cleanup hitters (a mix of Adam LaRoche, Nix, and Michael Morse) have an OPS of .705, ranking 24th.

6. The Nats have gotten above-average production from their # 5, 6, and 7 hitters.

Our # 5 hitters (mostly Morse and Wilson Ramos) have an OPS of .777, which ranks 11th. Our # 6 hitters (most often Espinosa)  have an OPS of .798, ranking sixth. Our # 7 hitters (a mix of Hairston, Iván Rodríguez, Ramos and Espinosa) have an OPS of .759, ranking third. The Nats have scored 42 runs in the second inning, ranking ninth.

7. Nats batters have hit well in high leverage situations.

In situations with a leverage index above 1.5 (these represent about 20% of all plate appearances and generally occur in the late innings of close games, especially with runners on base) the Nats’ OPS is .742, well above the MLB average of .711 and ranking seventh among MLB teams. The Nats have especially raked in extra innings, where they have an OPS .984 (ranking second, behind only the Dodgers).

8. The Nats have hit well against power pitchers.

Their OPS against power pitchers (pitchers who are among the top third in strikeouts plus walks) is .696, which ranks ninth and compares to the MLB average of .667. In view of the Nats’ proclivity to strike out, I found this split to be a bit surprising, but the extra Ks seem to have been counterbalanced by their home run abilities.

9. If the other team hits it on the ground, they’re probably out.

The Nats infielders have converted 79.0% of ground balls to outs—second best in the majors (behind only Seattle)—which compares to 76.8% for the average major league team. Their opponents’ OPS on ground balls in play is just .434, compared to the MLB average of .484.

10. Nats pitching in high leverage situations has been exceptional.

The Nats have held opposing hitters to a .640 OPS in high leverage plate appearances, which ranks seventh best in the majors and compares to an MLB average of .711. The Nats pitchers have held opposing hitters to a .579 OPS in the ninth inning, compared to an MLB average of .667, and to a .656 OPS in extra-inning games, compared to an MLB average of .741.

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