The Washington Nationals Weaknesses
If you're a fan of the Washington Nationals these are good times. Your team has a record of 51-36 and holds a three-game lead in the NL East. They get great starting pitching, have an elite player in Bryce Harper and second baseman Daniel Murphy is performing at an MVP level. But if you're a bettor that invests in the Washington Nationals then the picture isn't so rosy - the Nationals are a team costing you money. For the season, the Nats are (-$268) based on $100 betting increments for each game. What gives?
What gives is that Washington has just enough weaknesses to make them a dangerous favorite. They don't get on base consistently as a team and they don't have a lockdown reliever in the bullpen. When you bet at favorite's prices there's no room for error and the Nats have just enough to leak cash.
Let's start with the OBP, because it's the biggest concern for bettors and if this team ultimately comes undone in the standings, it will be the reason. While the Nationals are fourth in the league in runs scored, they're only seventh in OBP.
Furthermore, their production here is extremely top-heavy. Harper was already an on-base machine coming off his MVP year in 2015, and now teams are pitching around him in a way we haven't seen since Barry Bonds was breaking home run records in the early 2000s. Harper's .400 OBP is driven by 66 walks.
Pitchers don't feel the need to come into Harper because few others in the lineup can make it hurt. Murphy is clearly one, with an OBP of .384 and slugging percentage of .500. But there are some serious dead spots elsewhere in the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman is having an awful year at first base, with an OBP of .284.Centerfield, whether occupied by Michael Taylor or Ben Revere, isn't doing much better.
As a team, Washington is only seventh in the National League in batting average. It's become passe to talk about batting average instead of OBP. And for the most part, we agree with that shift. But to score runs you eventually need to get actual hits, not just wait out a walk. Most offenses that do well at drawing walks do that, but not all. The Nationals have been an exception. They aren't swinging at bad pitches, but they aren't hitting many good ones.
Consequently, the Nats can be vulnerable in close games. That's accentuated by the fact Jonathan Papelbon has been a mediocre closer. He's saved 17 games in 19 opportunities which isn't bad, but the top closers in the league have 0-1 blown saves and in a lot more chances. Papelbon's ERA is also 3.04. That's high for a closer and this is another stat that typically is not a big deal, but does matter in situations like a closer coming on in a tie game and having to match zeroes with his counterpart.
That leaves two areas where Washington can be vulnerable in a close game. Neither problem is of "the sky is falling" variety, but both are enough that baseball bettors have to be concerned when you start laying big prices. And big prices is what's been required to bet on the Nationals.
1. Bullpen - 23/30 on save percentage - no individual great closers. Are second overall
2. OBP - Seventh in the league
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