Washington Nationals break at least four of The Bill James 10 Commandments


(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Bill James, the noted baseball analyst, came up with the 10 Commandments of Sabermetrics, designed to maximize a team’s chances at success.

I thought I’d go through them and see how well the Nationals are adhering to the covenants.

1. Thou shalt not bunt

The reasoning behind this is that outs are precious and the value of advancing one base at the cost of an out is a bad move in almost every situation. For example, a team can expect to score 0.83 runs in 2014 with a runner on first with zero outs. That drops to 0.62 with a runner on second and one out.

The Nationals are second in the league in bunt attempts (72) behind Cincinnati (81).

2. Thou shalt have no low on-base percentages before the cleanup hitter

Conventional wisdom suggests you want your best base stealer at the top of the lineup, followed by the hitter with the best bat control and then the best average hitter on your team. However, that’s wrong.

What you want are guys who can get on base the best in the first two slots to counter the reality that the third hitter comes to bat often with two outs and no runners on base.

Unfortunately, the Nats are following this commandment.

Adam LaRoche  (58 games and 248 plate appearances) and Wilson Ramos (11 games and 47 plate appearances) have been the most frequent cleanup hitters for Washington this season. Here are the most used batters ahead of them (minimum 10 games started in the slot):

Bryce Harper has been injured this season, so that could explain his low OBP, however, historically he has a .332 OBP when batting second, just slightly above the league average of .325 from the number two hitters. Denard Span’s .310 OBP from the leadoff spot is dreadfully lower than the .329 league average.

3. Honor the three-run homer and the leadoff walk

Leadoff walks maximize the amount of plate appearances with men on base while three-run homers tend to break a game wide open. The Nationals have drawn 48 walks to lead off an inning, 15th best in the major leagues.

The Nats have just seven home runs with two men on base – only seven teams have fewer this season.

4. Thou shalt not steal at anything less than a 70% success rate

Generally speaking, a 70 percent success rate for stolen bases is the minimum for them to be effective. The Nats are 43 for 51 for an 84.3 percent success rate.

5. Thou shalt make no idol of the light-hitting middle infielder

This is to avoid a middle infielder who is defensively sound but can’t hit a lick. The Nationals have the 19th best hitting second basemen in Danny Espinosa (0.4 wins above replacement, .282 weighted on-base percentage and .644 on-base plus slugging) and the 11th best hitting shortstop in Ian Desmond (1.4 WAR, .319 wOBA and .725 OPS).

6. Thou shalt not count to the credit of the pitcher that which is done by his fielders or by his hitters, nor charge him with their failings

Voros McCracken provided research in the early 2000s that the number of balls that fall in for hits against pitchers do not correlate well across seasons. In other words, pitchers have little control over balls in play. Using FIP minus, we can filter out these issues and see that the Nationals pitching staff is 15 percent better than the league average at preventing those things in their control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns.

7. Thou shalt not abuse thy starting pitchers

The Nats starting rotation doesn’t appear to be overworked, they have the thrown the eighth fewest pitches per game started in the majors.

8. Thou shalt make no effort to ride the hot hand, for the hot hand is but a shape in the wind

Streaks are a part of baseball, but they are typically just that: streaks. I am not sure how to calculate this statistically but I think it is fair to say that with the injuries on the Nats roster they don’t have the luxury of going with the “hot hand” more than the healthy one.

9. Place thy faith not in veterans, when youth be available to ye

Washington has a slightly older hitting roster than average (29.1 years old vs. 28.8 league average) while their pitchers skew younger than average (28.1 years old vs. 28.8 league average). The return of Harper will help bring the Nats average age down on hitters.

10. Thou shalt not pass freely thy opponent’s number eight hitter, nor his cleanup hitter, nor his left-handed pinch hitter, nor any hitter that is thy opponent’s

Free passes should be avoided at all costs, and the Nats are right at the league average for intentional walks issued at 15.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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Neil Greenberg · June 26