The unwelcome records of the 2022 Nationals

Let us count the ways the Nationals of 2022 smashed a number of long-standing franchise and season records for futility. A 55-107 fifth-place finish, worst since Washington regained a team in 2005, can do that.

The Nationals finished 46 games behind the Braves and Mets, who tied with 101 wins, and 14 games behind the fourth-place Marlins, who lost 93 games. The Nationals yielded 855 runs and scored just 603 (3.7 per game). The run differential, an MLB-worst -252, was by far the sorriest in Montreal/Washington franchise history, which was -209 by the first-year expansion Expos. The Nats’ won-loss record matched that of the awful 1976 Expos and was a game worse than the 1963 expansion Senators, the low-point of that franchise.

Starting pitching was a disaster. Between them, three pitchers who at one point were in the rotation had a combined won-loss record of 1-26 in 42 starts. Paolo Espino, 0-9, just missed setting the all-time record for innings pitched without a win. Rushed to the majors, Joan Adon was 1-12 with a 7.10 ERA. Cory Abbott was 0-5 in nine starts. Four other pitchers each started and lost one game without a win.

Dave Martinez

No Nationals pitcher threw enough innings to qualify in any positive categories. Patrick Corbin (6-19, 6.31), whose September back tightness may have kept him from losing 20 games, still led the team with a meager 152.2 inning. He and Eric Fedde (6-13, 5.81) were the veterans on a staff with an ERA just a tick under 6.00, the highest in team history. Josiah Gray (7-10, 5.02, the one bright spot because he at least has a future), gave up a league-leading 38 home runs.

No Nationals pitcher threw a shutout. No Nats pitcher completed a nine-inning game. Washington starters went an MLB-record 43 games without recording a win. The Nationals’ 2022 starters had the worst Wins Above Replacement (minus 1.1) by FanGraphs’ calculation, of any A.L. or N.L. pitching rotation since since 1901.

The Nationals collapse since the 2019 World Series title has been fast and steep, worse even than the 1914-1916 Athletics, who lost several players to the short-lived Federal League and finished those three seasons with a .389 winning percentage. Washington’s 2020, ’21 and ’22 – three years in the cellar — has been .380.

The Nats’ 2022 performance against fellow N.L. East teams was hard to fathom: a record-setting-worst 17-59.

Of course, the Nationals made one of the biggest trades at the deadline in recent history, sending superstar Juan Soto and hard-hitting first baseman Josh Bell to San Diego for several top prospects. Surely, some would say, the 2022 Nats would have done better keeping their top two hitters. But would they?

Washington was 35-69 (.337) after the last game Soto and Bell played for the Nats. From then on, Washington was 20-38 (.345). In San Diego, meanwhile, both Soto and Bell underperformed. Bell was hitting .301 when the trade was made. In San Diego, he hit .192. Soto left D.C. with a .246 average, but an on-base percentage well above .400. He hit just .236 for the Padres and his OBP fell into the .380s out West, barely above .400 for the season. No one can say for sure if those stats would have been better for Washington, but however well they might have performed, it’s doubtful the Nats could have avoided 100 losses.

Manager Dave Martinez will always be credited with leading Washington to a World Series title in 2019, but he did not win the division that season, nor in 2018 when a team built to make the playoffs did not. His Nats finished tied for last in the Covid-shortened 2020 season and were last with 97 losses in 2021. Every Martinez-managed team has won fewer games than the Pythagorean expectation (based mostly on run scored and runs allowed).

Although GM Mike Rizzo made the decision to strip the roster, the pressure on Martinez should increase next season. Rizzo fired Manny Acta 86 games into what what would be the Nationals’ second hundred-loss season in 2009. New ownership, if a sale is completed, may demand a change.

Washington fans hope the tear-down trades made with the Dodgers in 2021 and the Padres in 2022 result in a rebuilt Nationals team that follows the model of the 2011-to-2013 Astros. Three 100+-loss seasons led to sustained success, trash-can banging aside. But for now, all Nationals’ fans can do this off-season is lick their wounds.

A version of this appeared in the Nov. 19, 2022, edition of Here’s the Pitch, the online newsletter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association.

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