Monday, September 26, 2005

We're a .500 team, baby!

There's been a lot of talk about the Nationals "collapsing" in the second-half of the season, and we guess they have. It's hard to argue that you haven't collapsed when you go from 16 games above .500 at the All-Star Break to .500 with six games left in the season.

But there's another way to think about this. At the All-Star Break we put up a post pointed out that the Nationals' runs scored-runs allowed differential was an ominous sign of not so good things to come. (We weren't the only ones making this point, but this is our blog, and we tend to think really highly of ourselves, so we'll only site to us.) The Nationals then were 2.5 games up on the Braves, but when you reconfigured the standings using Bill James' Pythagorean Theorem, the Nationals fell to fourth place, 9.5 games behind the Braves and only .5 games ahead of the last-place Phillies. The Nationals' winning percentage in those reconfigured standings? .500.

It was obvious to anyone paying attention that if the Nationals didn't do something to improve their hitting they would fall back to earth, probably before the season's end. The main reason the Nationals were in first place at the All-Star Break was that they were winning almost all of their one-run games. Their pitching was awesome, second only to the Braves in runs allowed in the National League, so the only realistic way for the Nats to improve was to score more runs. Unfortunately, their hitters were hitting at about their expected level, so to score more runs the Nationals needed to get better hitters through trades.

Rather than make those trades, Jim Bowden assumed that the Nationals could defy the baseball gods forever. He berated the hitters and acted like the team was just one more pep talk away from walking into the playoffs. He failed to make the trades at the trade deadline that would improve the team's hitting, so the Nationals went into the second half with a team that didn't score enough runs to play above .500 for long.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Nationals have fallen to .500? Sure, it was possible for them to finish better than this, but you can win all of your one-run games for only so long. It's natural that the players would blame themselves, as Gary Bennett does in today's game story in the Post, but the real blame for this finish should be placed at the feet of the person who was in a position to improve the team, but who failed to do so--Jim Bowden.


Allen said...

At the halfway point of the season the Nats were 50-31, on pace to win 100 games. I'm sure all of us familiar with the Pythagorean theorem as it applies to baseball predicted that the Nats almost certainly would not go on to win 100 games. However, I don't think many of us would have predicted based on their runs scored and runs allowed in the first half of the season, that they'd play the rest of the season with the .383 winning percentage it would take to drag them back down to .500. Point being that even the sabermetrically sophisticated Nats fans among us can can be a bit surprised and disappointed about the second half collapse.

Leiv & Erik said...

Good point. You're right--no one reasonably could have expected the Nats to fall this far, although some fall was inevitable given that their success was based, at least in part, on the unsustainable (winning all those one-run games, enjoying consistently flawless pitching from Livan, etc.).

I'm disappointed, too, with the way the Nats played in the second half. But I'm also angry that management didn't do more to try to win.