Friday, December 27, 2019

The Decade of The Washington Nationals

Since we're all doing the "Decade Retrospective" thing in these days, I want to share my statistical doodling that I recently undertook in order to procrastinate from working pass a few leisurely moments. It pertains to the phenomenon of this past decade that my son and I will always be able to look back upon as bathed in the warm light of ultimate success. Moreover, it is a success that came at the end of the decade, just in time to rescue us from having to look back on these same numbers with cold cynicism.

The 2010s were The Decade of The Washington Nationals.

For us as Nats baseball fans, literally one game (game 7 of the 2019 World Series) made the difference in our experience of this decade as being a thrill of victories rather than an agony of defeats. That doesn't seem to make sense, but ultimately sports are not about the exercise of reason in the exact manner of a science. They are about play. Within the "realm of the game" (admittedly minor in relation to other, much more important realms of life, but also a realm that has its own integrity) the "thrills" and "agonies" have their own significance, which we must not underestimate.

Players and their performances on the field are a big part of this, of course. This is the decade that began with Stephen Strasburg's 14-strikeout major league debut on June 8, 2010 and ended with Stephen Strasburg's winning the World Series MVP on October 31, 2019 (and going on to sign a long-term contract with the Nationals this past month — for us fans that means he's staying on our field for a long time). Ryan Zimmerman, a career Nat, played frequently injured during the decade, but made it all the way to being a clutch factor in the playoffs and World Series. Max Scherzer: all the great seasons, the two Cy Young awards, the strikeouts, the no-hitters, and... winning the World Series.

There was much that was memorable during all the seasons of the decade, even if four of them ended in first-round playoff disappointment. Pitchers like Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez gave us great years, and then Jayson Werth — who played with the Nats from 2011-2017 — did so much to build the fighting spirit of the winning team they became two years after he retired. Werth also hit the game-winning home run back in 2012 that kept the Nats alive in their first playoff series (before this year, that was the top highlight of the Nats' post-season play).

Am I forgetting anybody?

Oh... there was that dude who hit lots of towering home runs and then decided to play for the Philadelphia Phillies... what was his name again?😉

But here's another thing: the game of baseball is not just played on the field. It's a game that involves a combination of luck and a diversity of skills. And while the most important skills, no doubt, can't be "measured" in any simple way, many aspects of baseball performance can be quantified in a set of statistics that provide significant and detailed information but also can be understood and calculated by a 10-year-old.

Kids in the U.S.A. often "discover" mathematics through baseball. Arithmetic becomes fun when you're figuring out batting averages, won-lost percentages, and cumulative career numbers such as can be found on any good baseball card. Some people go much further into it (maybe too far — SABRmetric people, whoa!). But for many of us the ordinary statistics of a 162 game baseball season that first fascinated us at age 10-or-so still resonate with us and spark our interest even after many years.

Sports in our society today — like everything else — are excessive enterprises, but as long as the game is still played, they will fascinate kids and reawaken the discovering, adventuresome child in all of us. Baseball, for me, will always evoke Spring and then Summer, sunshine, ball fields, balls and bats and gloves, as well as childhood and fatherhood (from my grandfather to my father to me to my son). It also still puts some sparkle into numbers, even after all these years.

Obviously, the numbers are sweeter when you win!

Here are some numbers from the Nationals Decade, 2010-2019:

2010: 69-93 .426 5th
2011: 80-81 .497 3rd
2012: 98-64 .605 1st* (NLEast)
2013: 86-76 .531 2nd
2014: 96-66 .593 1st* (NLEast)
2015: 83-79 .512 2nd
2016: 95-67 .586 1st* (NLEast)
2017: 97-65 .599 1st* (NLEast)
2018: 82-80 .506 2nd
2019: 93-69 .574 2nd (wildcard
Total 879-740 .543 (quite good overall)

•Four National League Eastern Division Titles
•One National League Pennant
•Four second place finished (one wild card)
•Won at least 80 games nine seasons
•Finished over .500 eight seasons
•Finished at least 10 games over .500 six times
•Won more than 90 games five seasons
•Won more than 95 games four seasons
•Finished over .600 one season

~Won one Wild Card playoff (2019)
~Lost four NLDS (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017)
~Won one NLDS (2019)
~Won one NLCS, i.e. “the Pennant” (2019)
~Won one World Series (2019)