I've spent a good percentage of the time on this blog making predictions, but very little analysis (or anything else for that matter). I started the year assuming that the Nationals would finish in last place, and recently revised that to say that they'd finish fourth. And, really, even that was my way of saying that they'd be in the second-tier jumble of the NL East behind Florida and Atlanta with New York (N) and Philadelphia.
Now, after taking three of four from the Braves, I have to admit that this isn't a bad team. In fact, it might actually be a good team. The Marlins now come to RFK, having lost three of four to the Pirates (oddly, the Marlins never win in Pittsburgh). Trailing the division-leading Marlins/Braves by only 1.5 games, it's actually possible that the Nationals will be in first place by the time I leave Sunday's game.
How did this happen?
First, it's important to realize that the Nationals have been somewhat lucky. Bill James, quite a while ago, came up with a predictive model of how many wins a team should have based on its runs scored and runs allowed. It makes sense. You win individual games by scoring more runs than your opponents, so you ought to have a higher winning percentage -- over the course of a season -- by outscoring your opponents, too. The Nationals have scored 217 runs and allowed 235, so it would be reasonable for them to have lost more than they've won instead of their two-games-over-.500 record. (Even these models have admitted that other factors play into record, so there's a margin of error of about five games by the end of the year.)
Under James's model, the Nationals could be expected to have a won-loss record of 25-29 right now instead of 28-26. Even at that pace, the Nationals would be a 75-win team. Not bad. Not bad at all.
When I look at the team's success versus what I had expected, I look at the players that have been better that I thought. Four players have carried the bulk of the offense
: Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, and Vinnie Castilla.
Runs Created is a monster of a stat that I don't understand but always seems to do a good job highlighting the offensive talents of a player in one number. Basically, it says that the total number of bases a batter accumulates make him good. Here's the formula:
[(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB - IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF))
So, have Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, and Vinnie Castilla been better than I thought?Nick Johnson
(Age 26)Career: BA: .267; SLG: .435; OBP: .3832005:. . . ..333; . . ..529; . . ..442Jose Guillen
(29)Career: .276, .447, .3232005: . .299, .523, .333Brad Wilkerson
(28)Career: .261, .466, .3692005: . .281, .453, .359Vinnie Castilla
(37)Career: .280, .488, .3252005: . .287, .448, .358
Now, I think it's reasonable that Johnson
would get better this year -- most players peak at 27 or 28 and maintain that level for a couple seasons. But not this much better. He's been hampered by injuries throughout his career, so maybe this is the player he really is. Let's hope so. Guillen
is having similar improvements, but I think he's also playing over his head just a bit. Wilkerson
is doing what you'd expect. Vinnie Castilla
has been a huge surprise. This is a great season for a player at age 37. Plus, his career batting numbers have been aided by Coors Field. I thought he'd be terrible. Yet, among National League third basemen
(his peer group, no?), Castilla is seventh in runs created. Perfectly average. I'm stunned.