Friday, June 26, 2015

Picking the Nats Killers Roster

So far, the Nationals have been able to take advantage of a weak portion of their schedule by sweeping the Braves at home. Over the next week, the Nationals will play the Phillies once and the Braves once more. While the Braves have hung around .500 admirably this year, the Nationals haven’t had to (and in fact will not next week either) face a Braves lineup with notorious Nationals Killer Freddie Freeman, who hit the DL just this week. If the Nationals are to build a lead in the NL East, they will have to feast on the dregs of the NL East, and the Braves and Phillies represent just that.

While being thankful that Freddie Freeman won’t be in the lineup, I got to thinking about which players are really “Nats Killers.” Freeman has gotten that label because it seems likes he is always playing above his talent level against the Nationals. So we will use that as our definition in compiling our roster of Nats Killers: players who perform better against the Nationals than they do against the rest of the league. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton always hammers the Nationals, but Stanton hammers the entire league, so he doesn’t get the distinction of being named to the Nats Killers roster. To start the search for our roster, I asked Baseball Reference's great Play Index to spit out players’ performances against the Nationals since the inaugural 2005 season, filtered for active players who have had greater than 15 plate appearances (a lot of pinch hitter/pitcher types have great lines against the Nationals, in one total at bat). Our base line stat was OPS (on base plus slugging) which captures both the ability to get on base and hit for power. I compared players’ OPS versus the Nationals to their career OPS during that time frame, to see who was playing above their talent level when it came time to face the Nationals. From there, I used my personal, extensive Nationals knowledge to subjectively pick out a roster of Nationals Killers. Not so scientific, but I never claimed it would be!

Catcher: Russell Martin
Prior to 2014, Russell Martin was about a league average hitter, until he faced the Nationals, that is. In the midst of posting a .759 OPS in action with the Yankees and Pirates over the past several years, Russell raked to the tune of .318/.438/.470 against the Nationals with 4 homeruns and 10 RBI in 38 games. Martin’s season batting average has never topped .300 and his best OBP was last year in his outlier of a 2014 season at .402, so his damage against the Nationals truly stands out.  
Honorable mention: Derek Norris
The former National has only played in 5 games against the team that originally drafted him, but in those 5 games Norris appears to have been out to stick it to his former employer. On his way to a 1.193 OPS, Norris knocked out 7 hits, 3 home runs, a triple(!!!), and 12 RBI. That should show you, Mike Rizzo.

First Base: Albert Pujols
In an upset, Freddie Freeman doesn’t get the official Nationals Killer honor, as his dominance over the Nationals has been a more recent phenomenon and his career numbers against the Nationals are only slightly above his normal lines. Pujols, on the other hand, wishes he could face the Nationals year round. Against the Nats, Pujols has hit .354/.481/.764 with 17 home runs and 30 RBI in only 42 games. Over his career, Pujols has obviously been a terror with the bat, but his line of .309/.397/.572 looks absolutely pedestrian compared to his numbers against the Nationals. To top it all off, Pujols made history off of Taylor Jordan with his 500th homerun after also hitting his 400th career home run in DC.

Second Base: Pete Kozma
In the upset of the century that everyone saw coming, the Cardinals Pete Kozma makes the list at second base. His OPS of .925 against the Nationals is only .341 points higher than his career mark from 2012-2015. You don’t need me to tell you that his .419 batting average against the Nationals is high, but it practically doubles his .222 batting average over the same time frame. He only has 2 extra base hits against the Nationals to his name and a mere 6 RBI, but it seems like every single one of them drove a stake through a Nationals’ season. Jose Tabata antics aside, Kozma is still public enemy #1 in DC, and captain of this Nats Killer lineup.

Shorstop: Brandon Crawford
The Giants shortstop was always known as a good defender but there were questions about whether he could hit enough to stick in the majors. He has answered those questions with a breakout year in 2015, but not after doing his best Troy Tulowitzki impersonation against the Nationals for 3 seasons. He has hit .333/.375/.493 against the Nats and his OPS of .868 is nearly 200 points higher than his career mark. Over a full season, Crawford has never had a batting average higher than .248! Not only has Crawford hit for average, he has also slugged 3 doubles, 3 triples (what is with Nationals and giving up triples?), and one home run to go with his 11 RBI. He’s only 1 for 3 in steal attempts versus the Nationals, though, so at least we have that going for us.

Third Base: Todd Frazier
Another guy whose breakout 2015 was foreshadowed by great success versus the Nationals, Frazier has always been a good hitter since sticking in the big leagues in 2012. He’s been more than good against the Nationals, though, as his OPS is .192 points higher against the Nationals from 2011-2015 than his career mark. He has triple slashed .350/.409/.588 against the Nationals with 9 extra base hits and 15 RBI in a mere 20 games. That’s yet another hitter who has never topped .300 in his career turning into Ted Williams against Nats’ pitching.
Honorable Mention: Manny Machado
Machado doesn’t make the honorable mention list because of some Battle of the Beltway rivalry that doesn’t much exist if you ask me. No, Machado makes the list because his OPS of 1.316 against the Nationals compared to his career mark of .772 equates to a difference of .544, good enough for the highest difference in OPS on our entire list, a good .060 higher than second place on our list.

Left Field: Corey Hart
The former Brewer and current Pirate hasn’t been the same the injury bug bit Corey Hart around 2013, but he was a formidable right handed bat at one time. Even more formidable against the Nationals. His slash line of .301/.358/.683 versus the Nationals is good enough for a 217 point difference in OPS. He did most of his damage by hitting for power, with 13 home runs and 19 total extra base hits in 36 games facing the Nationals. Turns out, it wasn't ‘roided up Ryan Braun that the Nationals had to worry about, it was Corey Hart.

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen is certainly a star, but his numbers against the Nationals are other-worldly: .350/.420/.715 with 13 homeruns, 22 extra base hits, and 28 runs driven in. That’s good enough for a .256 higher OPS against the Nationals than for his career. That slugging percent blows away his career high for a season of .542 by a long shot. In the past, McCutchen’s exploits against the Nationals were mostly forgotten because the Pirates were terrible, and so were the Nationals. Now, the roles are flipped for both teams and McCutchen’s Nat killing ability may factor into the playoff picture.

Right Field: Carl Crawford
Crawford has been terrorizing the Nationals for nearly a decade, starting with the Rays/Devil Rays, moving onto the Red Sox, and now as a Dodger. People might forget, given Crawford’s recent injury riddled seasons, but he was one of the best outfielders in the league for a long time. Against the Nationals, though, he topped his bests by a good margin. In 70 plate appearances, Crawford hit .438/.456/.672 with 8 extra base hits and 5 steals. Crawford is currently on the DL but set to return soon. The Nationals won’t be sad to hear that Don Mattingly is sticking with Andre Ethier over Crawford for the time being. Maybe Mattingly is saving Crawford for games against the Nationals.

Pitcher: Ian Kennedy
I wasn’t planning on including a pitcher given the flukiness of pitcher at bats, but when I saw that Ian Kennedy posted a .732 OPS (compared to a career number of .391), I couldn’t keep him off. In 16 plate appearances, Kennedy put up a line fitting an everyday position player, not a light hitting pitcher: .286/.375/.357. He’s pulled 2 walks in those 16 plate appearances, as much a slight on the Nationals pitchers as credit to Kennedy.

Minor League: Brian Bogusevic
The last player on the Nats Killers roster couldn’t even make an MLB squad this year as he’s currently playing for the Phillies AAA squad which, considering the Phillies are basically a AAA team themsevles, is saying something. If only he could face the Nationals every day, he might have a full time MLB job. He’s hit .314/.415/.600 against the Nationals and nearly half of his 11 hits went for extra bases. In 2011, his best year as full time major leaguer, Bogusevic hit only .287/.348/.457. Meager results compared to his numbers against the Nationals.

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