Well, probably. I don’t know for sure how good you think the Nationals offense is, but I’m speaking more to the general population here. Just bear with me.
Moving on, looking at the Nationals rate stats it paints a seemingly bleak picture. The team average, not including pitchers, is a .260/.329/.403 slash line, a .324 wOBA and a meager 4.28 runs per game. Coming from the steroid fueled offensive funfest that was the early 2000’s that looks absolutely terrible. But spoiler alert, it isn’t the early 2000’s anymore and the game has changed a lot on the offensive side.
To give you an idea of just how depressed offense has become in the past decade here’s two graphs. The first is league average non-pitcher wOBA over the past decade.
That is a precipitous drop and explains why perception of the Nationals offense differs so much from reality. The Nationals offense is often described as inconsistent because they don’t score four or more runs every night. Of course baseball has never worked like that, but it especially doesn’t work like that now. When compared to the league average the Nationals run distribution is right about average.
As you can see from the graph above the Nationals are pretty much right in line with the NL and MLB averages for runs scored in a game distribution. In fact, they have had fewer games scoring just 0 or 1 runs than the league averages, while being well above average in six and seven run games.
Putting the Nationals offense into league context like this paints an entirely different picture than the stats used to lead off the piece. The Nats 4.28 runs per game is above the major league average of 4.11 runs per game and ranks third in the National League behind only Colorado and Milwaukee. Their BaseRuns, a runs estimator that accounts for hit sequencing and base runners, predicted runs per game of 4.23 shows they might be getting a bit lucky, but still places them above the league average.
When put into league context those numbers from the start of the piece don’t look so bad. The Nats on-base percentage and wOBA are both above league average, while their batting average and slugging percentage are exactly league average. Additionally, the team wRC+, not including pitchers, is 105, just a knock above the league average of 100. The team walk rate (8.7%), ISO (.143), home runs (114) and hits (1122) are all at or above league average.
Taking an individual approach shows similar results. The Nats have nine hitters with at least 200 plate appearances and a wRC+ above 100, which is league average: Jayson Werth, Asdrubal Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper. That ties them with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Tampa Bay Rays for the most such hitters in Major League Baseball.
There’s another component of offense that often goes overlooked: base running. And Harper pickoffs aside, the Nationals are easily the best base running team in the Major Leagues. According to FanGraphs’ base running runs above average statistic, which measures the run value of a team’s ability to take the extra base, Nationals’ non-pitcher base runners have accounted for 13.3 runs above average, the best in the Major Leagues. The next best team is the Kansas City Royals at 8.4 runs above average.
With the historic levels of scoring that the steroid era brought still fresh in our minds, it’s hard to see a team scoring just 4.28 runs per game and realize they’re actually a good offense, but the Nationals are just that. Welcome to baseball in 2014.