The Washington Nationals engendered a lot of positive feelings in the pre-season. They had just come off a 73-win 2007 season that defied all the pre-2007 expectations. Most of those held the Nationals would lose 100 and possibly set the record. As a result of their prediction-defying 73 wins, the Nationals garnered gushing praise from Baseball Prospectus for the managerial acumen of Manny Acta and were expected by most forecasters to improve some more with a move away from the unfriendly hitting confines of RFK Stadium to the can't-be-anything-but-more-friendly ones of Fed-Ex Field.
Despite being on pace to beat last year's record as measured by W-L on the same date last year (11-25 in 2007 and 15-23 in 2008 on May 12), the impression remains that the Nationals are disappointing. I believe this is largely the fault of two things: the offensive production of 3B Ryan Zimmerman and the starting outfielders.
The case for optimism on 3B Ryan Zimmerman was put forth intelligently, and convincingly, by Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus :
"Zimmerman may seem like an odd choice for the list, given how well he’s played in his first two full seasons. However, Zimmerman’s raw stat lines have been held down by his home park, RFK Stadium, which just killed power, especially right-handed power. Zimmerman’s home/road splits do not reflect this gap—he’s slugged .501 at RFK in his career, .435 on the road, but a guiding principle of performance analysis is that an individual’s home/road splits, even over two years, do not mean that player isn’t being affected by his home park. We know what RFK did to run scoring and power, and moving to a new park should enable Zimmerman to convert some of his doubles to home runs. Throw in development—he’s 23 this season—and you have the recipe for a breakout. David Wright might well have been the most valuable player in the National League last season; Zimmerman will be a better player than Wright in 2008. "
One need only look at the 2008 efforts of Zimmerman and David Wright to see Zimm isn't even better than the 2008 version of David Wright.
|2008 - Ryan Zimmerman||37||154||17||37||7||0||5||18||7||29||0||0||.240||.273||.383|
|2008 - David Wright||35||133||20||36||12||1||6||31||27||28||4||4||.271||.391||.511|
The second reason the Nationals have disppointed is the lack-luster performance of their three outfielders - Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge and Austin Kearns. Pena and Kearns were expected to improve thanks to the move away from RFK and the fact they are still relatively young, but Milledge has even greater expectations on him. He was very young and had a great Spring Training. Expectations were further inflamed by his public declaration that he'd steal 30 bases in 2008. Since he swiped six in ST, this seemed likely.
Looking at the 2008 efforts of those three OF, one can understand why Elijah Dukes was recalled. Whether or not I agree with his 2+nth chance or not, I am not in the business of winning baseball games.
|2008 - Lastings Milledge||37||135||15||34||9||0||1||11||11||26||3||3||.252||.322||.341|
|2008 - Austin Kearns||37||130||14||27||3||0||3||16||18||23||1||2||.208||.322||.300|
|2008 - Wily Mo Pena||25||73||5||16||2||0||0||5||7||20||0||1||.219||.284||.247|