Deleting the Adjectives: The Bench
Oftentimes a team's bench goes overlooked when determining how good a team is and rightfully so as the average bench player gets about half as many plate appearances as a starter. But bench players, especially in the National League, are an important part of a team's overall success. No team goes without injuries through an entire season and every team, especially in the NL, needs pinch hitters. A good bench can provide extra value in these situations, often creating the difference between two evenly matched teams.
The Nationals bench in 2012 was one of the best benches in the Major Leagues. The four main bench players: Chad Tracy, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi earned the nickname the Goon Squad for the value they provided as back-ups. Altogether the four combined for 3.4 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs. Nationals' pinch hitters were the best in batting average and second in OPS in Major League baseball in 2012. They were a solid unit.
It is a different story so far in 2013 though. All four players have been worth less than a replacement player at their position. The Nationals have also dropped to the bottom third of the league in nearly every statistical category for pinch hitters. While much focus lies on the struggles of Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, the anchor dragging down the Nationals so far has been their bench.
Tyler Moore in particular has struggled in 2013. Moore is currently worth -1.1 WAR, which is the same as Ian Desmond is worth in positive WAR. Moore, already not known for his defense, has become ice cold at the plate, batting just .127/.164/.238 in 67 plate appearances. His wOBA of .177 is abysmal and leads to a wRC+ of 3, meaning he is producing 97% less runs than league average, an almost impossible number.
This is in startling contrast with 2012, when Moore was worth 0.6 WAR, with his defensive numbers dragging his value down. Moore had a wOBA of .361 in 2012, well above average, making him an excellent contributor at the plate.
His teammates have not fared much better. Roger Bernadina was worth 1.7 WAR and had a .341 wOBA in 2012, but in 2013 he has been worth -0.1 WAR with a wOBA of .171, with his bafflingly high defensive ratings propping his value up. Pinch hitter extraordinaire Chad Tracy has seen his value dip from 0.5 WAR in 2012 to -0.3 WAR in 2013 with a wOBA of only .230, not the hitter the Nats thought they were getting when they signed him to an extension in 2012.
With Danny Espinosa struggling mightily at second base, the final bench player, Steve Lombardozzi, might have been able to grab a hold of a starting spot, if not for his own abysmal performance. Lombardozzi, already not known for a particularly high on-base percentage or power is batting just .220/.245/.286 this year; good for a .234 wOBA and -0.3 WAR. Lombardozzi's best tool, his contact rate, has taken a dip too from 90.4% in 2012 to 84.1% this season.
Altogether the main bench players have been worth -1.8 WAR, which is unacceptable. With injuries to Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, the bench players have been counted on to perform and they have not done so. The bench players have not taken advantage of their limited opportunities and are hurting the team. While it's difficult to remove a struggling starter, it is not so hard to do so with a bench player. And it may be time for the Nationals to consider re-tooling the artists previously known as the Goon Squad.