A raw look at how the Nats love to fall behind early in games

Posted on April 23, 2014 by Andrew Bailey

Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Three batters into last night's game against the Los Angeles Angels, the Nats found themselves down 3-0. The Angels' lead came thanks to a lead-off double by JB Shuck, a throwing error from Anthony Rendon that allowed Mike Trout to reach base, and the 499th home run of Albert Pujols' career. Obviously, you're not often going to find success when you surrender three runs and dig yourself into a hole before even recording an out.

The problem is, this is what the Nats do. In 2014, this is especially true.

Without going too geeky, I wanted to look at run differentials by innings through the team's first 21 games. I wasn't so much concerned with diagnosing what's gone wrong, but more was curious just what the disparity in runs (and earned runs, since the Nats continue leading the league in errors) scored looked like by inning. 

Here's what I found:

Photo Credit: NatsGM.com

In the first inning of games, the Nats are being bludgeoned by a total combined score of 25-6. When only getting outscored 19-6 in the second inning of games is considered progress, you know there's a problem.

If I was determined to draw value from just these raw numbers, I'm really more inclined to look at chunks of three innings (1-3, 4-6, and 7-9). The Nats' 10-5 and 16-4 advantages in the sixth and seventh innings don't necessarily tell me that the team is good in those innings individually; there's a lot of circumstantial stuff at play. Where's the lineup at that point in the game? Has the opposing team gone to the bullpen or are our hitters getting their second or third look at the starter? There's a lot of different angles to take and, again, for this exercise, I really just wanted to view the numbers without digging too deep.

So, here's what we've got: the Nats have been outscored 44-18 in the first three innings, 27-26 in the middle three, and have outscored opponents 42-18 in the final three innings. They've yet to allow a ninth inning run.

The last part of that statement is great. A +24 run differential in crunch time of games certainly seems ideal. But at some point, at least conceptually, that stuff becomes akin to lauding a quarterback for leading a precious "fourth quarter comeback," which might not have been necessary in the first place if that quarterback hadn't laid an egg for the first three quarters of the game. Keep games competitive early and the late run differential -- while still very important -- is more luxury than necessity. 

In the first and second innings of games, Nats pitchers are surrendering slash lines of .355/.402/.634 and .356/.404/.567. In those same two frames, Nats hitters are slashing .221/.277/.364 and .263/.306/.425. It isn't until the seventh inning that the Nats' bats post a batting average higher than .263; they hit .287 in the seventh and .300 in the eighth. 

Again, I don't really know what all of this means. It's one thing if you can isolate the pitching or hitting as problematic early in games, but they've both been horrendous. The defense, too. I might dig around to see if there are any more interesting trends, but for now, I'm just content to prove what I already pretty much knew: so far in 2014, the Nats have been absolutely dreadful at starting games.

next up:

Forecast: Games the week of April 21-27

April 22, 2014

Here is your forecast for the home stand against the Angels and Padres...

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