Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Know Thy Enemy: The Nats 

Tonight at 7 the Phils kick off a three game set with the Nats at Citizens. Most pundits expect the Nats to finish fourth or fifth this season, so these are games the Phillies want to win to get into the playoff picture later on this season. At the moment the Phillies are in a good spot: 5-7 isn't bad, and it seems like the five-way logjam from last season is giving way to a three-team chase, with the Phillies and Braves nipping at the Mets heels. The Marlins and Nats seem out of it already. The Phillies are in the running.

The Phillies did okay against the Nats in 2005: 11-8 (.579), roughly the same as what they did against the Nats in their last two years in Montreal: (12-7 in ’04, 11-8 in ’03). They’ve taken advantage of the Nats, but haven’t dominated them.

The consensus from most pundits was that we learned two big things about the Nats from last season:

1. They did surprisingly well in 2005.
2. RFK is a major pitchers park.

The Nats Pythagorean win-loss record suggests they were mildly lucky in 2005: while they finished 81-81 (good for dead last, a testament to how competitive the NL East was last year), their record should have been 77-85. Four games isn’t a major variance, and their record wasn’t a product of eking out some tough wins with luck: the Nats were 30-31 in one-run games, not a great record.

They were surprisingly good, a result I chalk up to point #2:

The Nats were coming from a park that favored pitchers, but RFK really gave the pitchers an edge. Using ESPN’s Park Factors (note: I usually prefer to use Bill James numbers because he subtracts inter-league games which skew the numbers a little because of the DH), RFK is a pitcher’s heaven:

Home Run Factor: 78 (under 100 favors pitcher), ranked 28th. i.e., it was 22% tougher to hit a home run at RFK than a neutral stadium.

Run Factor: 86, ranked 29th, 14% tougher to score a run in RFK.

Only Petco Park was a better park for pitchers in both categories, plus Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City was rated slightly tougher to hit a home run in. The extreme difficulty batters had in generating runs helped the Nats finish fourth in NL in ERA at 3.87. The Nats road ERA was a more pedestrian 4.19 (3.52 at home).

But the Nats seems to be decently good in terms of pitching: their FIP ERA was a respectable 4.12 (0.10 below the league average), and their slugging percentage allowed was .396, under the league average again (.418) … so they are doing something right, and I don’t think that RFK is to thank for that entirely: they did play nine games at Citizens in ’05.

Defensively, the Nats weren’t much in 2005: they ranked 19th in the MLB in Plus / Minus and17th in the NL in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER), they are also 24th in turning double plays, and 20th in throwing out advancing base-runners. Their sole bright spot was their fifth place rank in defending bunts. This is not a strong defensive team.

Offensively the Nats were the worst team in the NL in ’05, scoring just 3.94 runs a game (slightly better than fifteenth place San Francisco at 4.01). The Nats did nothing well: they ranked dead-last in slugging percentage, in Isolated Power, and next-to-last in terms of OBP.

In short, there is nothing to suggest that the Nats were a good team in 2005 and they have much to hope for in 2006. They looked terrible on offense, terrible on defense and o.k. on the mound. I suspect that their 81-81 record was probably based on difficulty teams had in adjusting to RFK and a little bit of luck: as of July 1, 2005, the Nats had a record of 47-31 and had actually been out-scored 322 to 324 (they were out-performing their Pythagorean win-loss by nine games). They went 34-50 the rest of the way when their fortune ran out. I don’t think they upgraded much in the off-season, so I’d give the Phils a big edge in their match-ups this season. Even in terms of pitching, I’d say that the Phils have an edge, and there is little question that the Phils are better at the position player slots.

They kind of suck, and we kind of lost to them.

We'll still take 2 of 3, but not a good way to start the homestand.
Yeah, last night's game blew.
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