Statistical Reasons to be Optimistic about the Nationals
The baseline for a playoff team is 90 wins. By using that as the goal for the Washington Nationals they need to go 63-44 in their remaining games to reach that goal. That is a winning percentage of .589. It isn't easy but it isn't close to impossible. With the talent the Nationals have it is very doable, and despite the fact that the Nationals are under .500 they have scored 222 runs to 208 allowed. That gives them a Pythagorean record of 29-26. It is unlikely that the Nationals can make up that difference and may under perform their expected winning percentage all season, but it shows that they have played better than their record indicates and the Nationals have played nowhere close to their potential. Expected winning percentage is the first and most important reason to be optimistic. It shows something very fundamental. The Nationals are a better team than their record and if they can just keep playing as they have then the future results will be better than past results. The second statistical reason for optimism is the starting pitcher's regression to the mean. It has already somewhat started as last week the Nationals ranked 16th in baseball in starting pitcher's ERA, but as of today they rank 11th, but in FIP (a stat that measures only what the pitcher controls and indicates something closer to true performance) the Nationals starting pitchers rank 4th in baseball. And this is with having their full rotation for maybe a week.
That brings up the next reason for optimism. Players are going to start getting healthy. Ramos has started to find his timing and has been hitting much better the past week than he did when he first came off the DL. Ryan Zimmerman is due back today and the Nationals will be replacing a .555 or .632 OPS bat with a .831 career OPS one. That isn't a small change and not only does Zimmerman have an impact by simply replacing Espinosa or McLouth he will also push down the rest of the batting order and make it seven deep. There is a big difference in having Ian Desmond batting seventh being able to pick up RBI opportunities over Danny Espinosa.
In two or three weeks when Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez are back the Nationals will only be missing Harper. That is still a big loss, but only missing one player due to injury is a lot different than missing two, especially when those two are two of the better bats in the line-up. Outside of injuries the Nationals have a couple players underperforming their career averages. Jayson Werth is down near a .776 OPS compared to a career .834, and Ian Desmond is at .698 compared to his career OPS of .745.
For Jayson Werth the low OPS is due to the fact that his power hasn't yet kicked in. Perhaps it won't but Werth has hit more than a couple line-drives that have been caught at or near the wall. He has a higher than average BABIP, but he has had bad luck when he's hit the ball hard. For Ian Desmond his BABIP is down at .271 compared to his career average of .320. With a batting average dependent OBP those hits Desmond is losing to bad luck has negatively impacted his OPS. There is no guarantee that all of these things will turn around for the Nationals, but there is a close to zero percent chance than none of them do. The Nationals are going to get healthier and someone's luck is going to even out. Whether it is the starting pitchers, Jayson Werth, or Ian Desmond someone on this team is going to get hot and it is hard to imagine it not helping.
The Nationals are a team that has underperformed expectations and have shown serious warts, but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Washington Nationals and they are founded in statistical evidence. It is always better for peace of mind and mental health to be positive, but it is far more productive to be positive when it can be backed up with hard evidence.