September Natitude

 

September can be a fun month for baseball fans. In most seasons Washington
Nationals fans were getting a glimpse of the future. This season feels like an
inevitable march to the end. It remains unlikely for the Nationals to come back
and make the post season, but if they do it should be a fun ride. Whatever
happens though it is important to remember that baseball is supposed to be fun
and what is more fun about baseball than stuff that just doesn’t make sense.
   

That brings us to one of the real joys
of September baseball. Because it is the month of expanded rosters there are a
lot of players in the major leagues that shouldn’t be in the major leagues. We
saw this on Tuesday night when the Phillies brought reliever after reliever out
of the bullpen and none of them could find the strike zone. It was an
interesting night, but combine the abundance of non-major league quality
pitchers with the typical small sample size of a month and some real fun can
happen. So let’s look back through the eight previous Septembers the Nats have
played to find the greatest September National. We are going to make some
rules. If we went by raw numbers Rick Short would be the 2005 September Nat but
his 1.429 OPS came in just 14 PA while Ryan Zimmerman had a .988 OPS in 62 PA.
Somewhere around 50 PA seems about right as a limiter for one month, and Ryan
Zimmerman is the best September Nat from 2005 (nobody said they’d all be crappy
players). 

Moving forward to 2006 and it is
another player that was really good for the Washington Nationals. Nick Johnson
had a 1.055 OPS over 89 plate appearances followed by Ryan Church with a 1.013
OPS over 55 and Austin Kearns with .924 over 82 plate appearances. I think
people forget how good Austin Kearns was when he first got traded to the
Nationals. Before getting Kearns and Felipe Lopez the Nationals 2006 offense
was putrid. It may have been the worst offense we’ve seen in Washington, but
then suddenly they got those two and they were able to get on base. Felipe
Lopez and Austin Kearns both wrote their own ticket out of town at a later date
but in that first half season they helped the offense in a big way. It is just
too bad that neither of them could do anything to save the Nats from Ramon
Ortiz or Pedro Astacio.  

Ryan Church is the winner for 2007 and there is no one with enough plate
appearances that is close to his 1.210 OPS over 52 plate appearances. As I set
that as the limiter it disqualifies D’Angelo Jimenez and his 1.173 OPS even
though that is the first real funny name we would have had. Church is almost a
symbol for those early Nats. He is the player that everyone thought Bernadina
was. Church destroyed right handed pitching and in limited and controlled
playing time looked like a superstar. It just happened that when he got traded
to the Mets and became an everyday player he got exposed. He suffered from some
of the same issues as we’ve seen with some more modern Nats where he could
never lay off the breaking ball in the dirt. Harper may only hit .190 against
left handed pitching but he does get on base at an over .300 clip because he
has started to lay off the pitches that Church couldn’t.   

Now we should be getting into some years that could provide some comedy.
2008, 2009, and 2010 were when the Nationals were looking at guys and it may
not look that funny that Cristian Guzman happens to be the 2008 leader with a
.981 OPS but right below him is Elijah Dukes with a .943. There is a large part
of me that wants to get a Dukes 34 jersey. Because it is Bryce Harper’s number
now it would cause mass confusion with the newer fans and the older Nats fans
who were around to witness dukes would have a kind of hipster appreciation for
it. Dukes was a fun player. He was full of talent and rage and refusal to admit
he was anything but a superstar. He never let his natural talent take over and
just play the game. He wanted to be a rock star and baseball for him was a
means to an end. It was what he was talented at, but he never truly loved
baseball and because of that he tried to have all the things a superstar has
before he was a superstar and it destroyed him, but damn if I don’t miss the
chest pounding walk-off homers and the weird “softball girl” antics
in the dugout.  

And here we go. This one isn’t so funny because after being released by the
Nationals and Yankees Justin Maxwell found a home with the Houston Astros and
has since been traded to the Kansas City Royals. Maxwell has turned himself
into a good platoon/bench type hitter and those are valuable commodities in the
world of baseball as the Nationals have learned this season. Maxwell in
September of 2009 edged out Ian Desmond with a .924 OPS to Desmond’s .879.
Maxwell will end up going down in Nationals history with the likes of Elijah
Dukes, Lastings Milledge, and Wily Mo Pena but he doesn’t deserve to. He was a
local product who went to the University of Maryland and was a good person who
was easy to root for. It is good to see that he realized who he was as a
baseball player and embraced it. Lots of players have forged long careers by
doing exactly that, and at least he will always have September 2009 when he was
the best ball player on the Washington Nationals.   

2010 was a strange year for the Washington Nationals. They won 69 games so
it was overall a bad year when it came to wins and loses but it was also the
year that Stephen Strasburg debuted and Bryce Harper was drafted. It was the
year that the foundation for 2012 and beyond was laid, and despite what the
expectations say for this season if the Nationals finish over .500 2013 could
be a blip on the radar that becomes just another year in some glorification of
the team like, “The Nationals have finished over .500 for the past five
seasons.” Who knows where it ends, but where it began was in 2010. That
was also the season that Michael Morse staked his claim to being the best Nat
of September with a .858 OPS. That is also the lowest OPS to lead this thing
and each season it has gotten lower and lower. The run environment was at an all-time
low in 2010, but still in the small sample size of one month vs. not great
talent it is more fun to see guys with an OPS up over 1.000. 

This is more what I am talking about. The leader of the 2011 September
Nationals was none other than the Buffalo, Wilson Ramos. His 1.016 OPS crushed
the next closest, Michael Morse, who managed an .802 OPS. I don’t know how much
I need to write about Ramos because he is still playing for the team, and I am
sure most remember that the 2012 off-season was not a good one for him. He got
kidnapped and then the 2012 season made it worse when he tore his ACL. When
Ramos has been on the field he has been one of the best offensive catchers in
the game, and there is no reason to expect that he can’t continue to do that.
The question really is can his hamstrings hold up for an entire season. I will
say that if they do in 2014 the Nationals offense will look nothing like it has
in 2013, or maybe it will but more like the 4.7 runs a game the Nationals have
put up since the start of August than the closer to 3.0 runs a game they put up
without Ramos. 

September of 2012 was a month where the Nationals scuffled a bit, but it
wasn’t because of offense. Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez appeared to wear
down and Stephen Strasburg was shutdown. It was also a month that Adam LaRoche
had an 1.057 OPS and Bryce Harper 1.043. They both ended up with post-season
awards due in great part to their September offensive surges. LaRoche may end
up being remembered more alongside the Elijah Dukes of the Nats than the Bryce
Harpers, but he has had a good career overall. 2013 hasn’t been kind to him. He
had a very good May and June, but after that his best OPS for a month was .737
in August. This is a season LaRoche may like to forget, and we’ll find out if
he can bounce back in 2014 or if the Nats try and go outside the organization
to replace him during or before that season. Either way LaRoche will always
have 2012, and no one can take that Silver Slugger and Gold Glove away from
him.  

I didn’t look any of this up before I wrote it, and I was expecting more
Justin Maxwell’s and Elijah Dukes. I was really expecting to see Wily Mo Pena
come up at some point. The funny thing was that guys who were good in September
for the most part ended up being guys who were actually good, and Elijah Dukes
is the closest we came to a flame that sizzled out shortly thereafter. Small
sample sizes can cause some funny things, but sometimes good players are good
players and can be great for a month. Anyway in the interest of crowning a
winner I am going to deem Justin Maxwell to be the best September Nat of all
time, because why not? This was for fun after all and I once sat next to his
parents at a P-Nats game.  

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