The biggest complaint you’ll hear about the Washington Nationals is they don’t score enough runs and this needs to be fixed. Within the commentary you’ll never hear a single fact brought up or exactly how many runs a game would be acceptable, but a common phrase spoken is, “This isn’t a team capable of putting up five or six runs a game.” In the NL only the Colorado Rockies are anywhere near that mark averaging 4.82 runs a game, and they have the benefit of playing their home games on the moon, and in the AL both Oakland and the Angels are right under the 5.00 runs a game mark at 4.99 and 4.97 respectively.
There it is. There are three teams in all of baseball close to the mark I’m assuming the complainer desires for the Nationals and one plays on the moon and the other two have the benefit of the DH and the Angels have the best player in the entire sport. In reality the Nationals offense is just fine for the environment they play in. In fact it is better than just fine as at 4.13 runs a game they rank fifth in the NL. The issue people have isn’t so much with the Nationals offense as it is offense in baseball as a whole.
Let’s journey back to 2005 when the Nationals were new and did have the worst offense in baseball averaging 3.94 runs a game. In 2005 there were four teams over the 5.00 runs a game mark and six others within 0.25 runs of it. That is ten teams capable of scoring five or six runs a night. So it can easily be understood how someone that grew up watching baseball in the late 90s and early 2000s could come to the conclusion that good teams are those with high powered offenses and that five runs a game is a normal thing.
The 3.94 runs a game the Washington Nationals scored in 2005 would be right around the 2014 NL average of 3.99 runs a game and that Nationals offense, which played in RFK, would rank ninth in the NL directly between the Diamondbacks and Mets.
To further emphasize just how much the run environment has changed from 2005 to present consider that the average NL hitter in 2005 had an OPS of .744 and in 2014 that has dropped to .696. In other words if Wilson Ramos were to travel back in time his .748 OPS would make him a league average hitter. In fact Brian Schnieder had an OPS of .739 for the 2005 Nationals and was considered a defensive specialist at catcher while in 2014 Wilson Ramos is considered a plus offensive catcher.
The 2005 Nationals had many players (Brad Wilkerson .756 OPS, Junior Spivey .719 OPS, Vinny Castilla .722 OPS, Marlon Byrd .698 OPS) that were considered offensive black holes in 2005 but would be average to above in 2014.
Switching to the pitching side of the equation, the Washington Nationals have allowed the fewest runs in the NL in 2014 at 3.45 a game and the Nationals pitching staff carrying them isn’t anything new. The Nats run prevention did rank fourth in the NL in 2005, but they allowed 4.15 runs a game. The only NL pitching staffs worse than that in 2014 are the Marlins, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. In fact the best pitching staff in the NL from 2005, the Houston Astros, consisting of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt, and allowed 3.74 runs a game would rank eighth in the modern NL just below the Cincinnati Reds and above the New York Mets.
One of the great clichés of baseball is that it is a timeless game. It is still 90 feet to first and if runners are tagged out their out and all that sort of thing, but while the rules of the sport haven’t changed dramatically the men playing it have. In some eras the men with the bats are better and in others the guy throwing the ball is. Right now offense is down dramatically and the Nationals don’t put up five or six runs a night because they’re devoid of talent or don’t play the game the right way or whatever other reason is invited. The 2014 Washington Nationals don’t score like the 2005 Yankees because it isn’t 2005 anymore and the run environment has dramatically changed. In other words if you want to fix the Nationals offense, then get a time machine.