Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez posted 21 quality starts but won only 10 games.
Adam Dunn hit 38 homers, drove in 103 runs and posted an .892 OPS. Ryan Zimmerman hit .307 with 25 homers and an .898 OPS. Ian Desmond hit a respectable .269 with 10 homers, 27 doubles, 65 RBI and 17 steals as a rookie. Michael Morse hit .289 with 15 homers in very limited playing time. Josh Willingham had a .389 on-base percentage before succumbing to a knee injury in August.
On the pitching front, Livan Hernandez maintained a 3.66 ERA and had 21 quality starts. John Lannan finished with a .500 record after a wretched first half to the season. Stephen Strasburg struck out 92 batters in 68 innings. Seven relievers finished with ERAs under 4.00, three of them with ERAs under 3.00.
Looking up and down the Nationals' roster, I can objectively count 18 players who either had legitimately good seasons or at least exceeded what was expected of them back on Opening Day: Zimmerman, Dunn, Desmond, Morse, Willingham, Strasburg, Hernandez, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Roger Bernadina, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester, Miguel Batista and Matt Capps (before he was traded in late-July).
So how is it that the only stat that really matters at the end of the season reads 69-93?
"If you look at every one of our players individually, it looks like we did OK," Jim Riggleman said earlier today when discussing his team from an offensive standpoint. "Each guy, you can go right down the line, and most of the ballclub had an OK statistical year. You put it all together, and it just didn't work offensively. ... Every individual statistic, every individual situation on paper looked OK. But it just didn't turn into a lot of runs scored, which is the point of the game. You're trying to outscore the opponent."
The fact of the matter is this: Despite whatever positive individual performances they got in 2010, the Nationals as a team weren't all that good. The whole was less than the sum of its parts.
Yes, there were some nice players on the roster. But they didn't make for a nice team.
This left a lot of people in the organization baffled. How can a club with Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham, a dominant ace for 2 1/2 months, a couple other reliable starters and a fantastic bullpen only win 69 games?
"For some reason, it's not coming out on a consistent, day-to-day basis," Adam Dunn said. "I don't know why that is."
Last year's team, as awful as it was, might actually have been greater than the sum of its parts. It finished with 59 wins, but Riggleman felt like it probably deserved to win only 52. This time around, he feels like his club underachieved.
"I think this year we lost more games than we should have," the manager said. "I thought we should have won 75 ballgames. We didn't reach 70."
So, how do you remedy that? Do you stick with what you have, hope younger players get better and bring about the improvement you're looking for in 2011? Or do you make wholesale changes and try to alter the entire culture around the clubhouse?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Obviously, the Nats will move forward with their nucleus of young players (Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos, Jordan Zimmermann, Lannan, Storen, Clippard, Burnett and more) and hope that each guy takes another step forward next year. But they also figure to make some significant changes, riding themselves of the guys who seemed more interested in helping their personal stat line than in helping the team's won-loss record.
Despite what you heard over the last few weeks from the GM and the manager and others, privately those men weren't happy with a lot of aspects of this team. They didn't like how many batters weren't good at working the count and working on improving their on-base percentage instead of swinging from their heels at every opportunity. They didn't like the unwillingness of some players to sacrifice themselves to move runners up or bring them home. They weren't happy with some guys on the bases. They definitely weren't satisfied with several players in the field.
If it isn't obvious by now, Riggleman and Mike Rizzo prefer a pitching-and-defense club to an offensive juggernaut. In today's post-steroids sport, teams win more 2-1 games than 8-7 games, and the Nats' decision-makers want to put themselves in a better position to win more 2-1 games like they did in today's season finale.
Riggleman raved today about the potential of a Zimmerman-Desmond-Espinosa infield for years to come
"I think we've got a chance to put a real solid defensive ballclub out there," he said. "You just look at the way the game's going, so many games are finishing with one run scored, two runs scored. It seems like it's just becoming more and more important to play defense and pitch."
If the Nationals don't re-sign Dunn, look for them to attempt to acquire a better defensive first baseman. Also look for them to make a real attempt to improve defensively in the outfield. And when Rizzo says his No. 1 priority this winter is to acquire a No. 1 starter for the rotation, take him at his word. He may not land Cliff Lee, but he's going to wind up acquiring someone who fits the mold of a staff ace more than anyone in the current group.
In the end, the Nationals did make significant progress in 2010. They improved 10 games, an accomplishment surpassed by only three other major-league teams: the Padres (+15), the Reds (+13) and the Rays (+12). All three of those clubs either made the playoffs or were alive until the season's final day.
But for the Nationals to take the next step, to improve by another 10 or more games in 2011, they're going to have to make some calculated changes. Changes that may not result in better individual stat lines but should result in a better team.