The Nats and Situational Hitting


Yesterday the Nats lost a baseball game, and as many would like to point out they lost this game because of situational hitting. By that most people mean situational out making. The Nats had three golden opportunities to score runs. Twice they had first and third with no outs and once the bases loaded and no outs, and every time the Nats failed to plate even one run. By run expectancy the number of runs that can be expected to be scored in those situations by an average MLB offense are 1.6 and 2.2. The Nats however do not have an average MLB offense. An average MLB offense is hitting .253/.317/.401 and the Nats, .233/.292/.374. In other words because the Nats aren't even an average hitting team their run expectancy is going to be lower, but it shouldn't be to a point where zero is an acceptable or an expected outcome, but like most things in baseball an average is reached due to extremes more often than consistency.  

Most people look at those situations and blame the Nats poor situational hitting ignoring the fact that most teams hover right around 50% in scoring runners from third with less than two outs. The Nats are no different at 46% and while that is second worst in baseball it isn't that far off from the league average of 50%, and the Nats being sixth worst in opportunities is far more troubling. No matter how the Nats were doing in such situations people would take issue and remember the good old days when teams always scored runners from third with less than two outs. Those days never existed. The MLB average is always somewhere around 50%, and the correlation in runs scored is found more with opportunities than it is with the production in the situation itself. The St. Louis Cardinals are only 2% better at plating a runner from third with less than two outs than the Nationals, but they have scored over one and a half more runs per game, but have had 38 more base runners on third with less than two outs.    

The real trouble with the Nationals in scoring situations, aside from the fact that they don't have enough, is that they aren't hitting overall. In all situations this season the Nats have a .666 OPS, with the bases empty, .653 (fifth worst in the majors), with men on base, .687 (fifth worst in the majors), and with men in scoring position, .701 (tied for tenth worst in the majors). The Nats are in the bottom third of the league in hitting when it comes to all situations. The reasons behind all of this can be argued about and discussed for days, but the most important factor is the Nats do not make enough hard contact. The Nats line drive rate of 19.4% is tied for fourth worst in the majors.

The MLB average batting line on line drives is .690/.685/.990. Line drives are how a major league batter wants to put the ball in play, and when the Nats get line drives they are hitting .640/.638/.960. The issue is that the Nats aren't getting enough line drives. Their at bats do not end with enough solid contact. Go back to the situations yesterday and the Nats did end up with one line drive in their seven tries with men on third. That one line drive happened to be caught and turned into a double play when Steve Lombardozzi got lost off of first base. In the other six tries the Nats either struck out or hit weak ground balls. That is not going to get the job done. 

Think about a sac fly for a second. What is a sac fly? It is a hard hit ball that is caught. It has to be hit deep enough, and in most cases it has to be a line drive. The Nats do not hit enough line drives, and sac flies can't be viewed as a purposeful outcome. No batter should be at the plate trying to make an out. A sac fly should instead be a double that happened to be caught or a homerun that fell short of the wall. In other words a sac fly should occur naturally and organically. It should come as a result of a batter trying to make a hit in a situation and not be to goal itself. A sac fly is a byproduct of failure that happens to, by circumstance, result in success.   

When it comes to the Nats and situational hitting the issue isn't they aren't good enough at making productive outs. Their .292 OBP tells us they are in fact quite excellent at making outs. The issue is that they are an overall poor hitting team that doesn't make enough hard contact. Perhaps in those situations they are trying to hit a sac fly instead of trying to put the ball in ball with authority somewhere and that is leading to the Nationals seeming inability to hit sac flies or score runners from third with less than two outs. If the Nats start putting the ball in play with authority, hitting line drives, then the offense will start to recover. 

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