Jim Riggleman wants the top of the Nationals order on the offensive
While the Nationals focused their offseason roster overhaul on defense more than any other component, their offense must also improve for them to climb out of last place. They scored 655 runs last year, which ranked 25th in the majors. The solution, Manager Jim Riggleman said, is simple, and it has nothing to do with splashy free agent acquisition Jayson Werth: Hitters at the top of the lineup must get on base with greater frequency.
Last season, Nationals leadoff hitters posted a .300 on-base percentage, 29th in the majors and 29 points below league average. Their No. 2 batters combined for a .326 on-base percentage, 20th in the majors and eight points below league average.
The dearth of hits and walks from the top of the order created too many scenarios when Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals best player, walked to the plate with tumbleweeds rolling along the base paths. Zimmerman was one of 25 players who slugged .500 in at least 500 at-bats. He was one of five who produced those numbers and failed to reach 100 RBIs. Of those five players, Zimmerman's 85 RBIs tied him, coincidentally, with Jayson Werth for the fewest.
"Ryan Zimmerman has been such a consistent guy for us," Riggleman said. "It's a little deflating if he comes up to the plate and there's not some action going on there in front of him."
For now, the personnel at the top of the lineup figures to remain virtually steady. Riggleman has not finalized his lineup, but as of now, his most likely 1-2 order will be center fielder Nyjer Morgan and shortstop Ian Desmond. He also mentioned second baseman Danny Espinosa as a possibility for eight spot.
The Nationals are counting on Morgan to return to form at the leadoff spot. Prior to last season, he carried a .362 on-base percentage in 826 plate appearances. He sputtered to a .319 on-base percentage last year. They are also counting on Desmond to improve. In his rookie season, Desmond mustered a .308 on-base percentage, which ranked 68th out 74 qualifying National League players.
"If they can get can on base, I really feel good about our offense," Riggleman said. "If we're going to be that really good ball club that we strive to be, that on-base in the 1 and 2 spot has got to be moving toward that .350 range."
On-base percentage will be a key statistic to watch throughout the Nationals lineup. The Nationals' on-base percentage as a team last year was .318, which ranked 22nd in the major leagues and was seven points than the major league average. This offseason, the Nationals lost Adam Dunn (.356) and Josh Willingham (.389), two of their most proficient on-base hitters in 2010. They replaced those two, roughly, with Adam LaRoche (.320) and Jayson Werth (.388).
| February 15, 2011; 4:45 PM ET
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