Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #1: Washington Nationals

Greetings! Somebody has to take pole position....

Projected Starters - Wilson Ramos (C), Adam LaRoche (1B), Danny Espinosa (2B), Ian Desmond (SS), Ryan Zimmerman (3B), Jayson Werth (LF), Denard Span (CF), Bryce Harper (RF)

For a 99-win team, this lineup doesn't scream awesome, but it is pretty darn good. Bryce Harper arrived in a big way in 2012, and the 20-year-old (who played last year at 19, btw) had an OPS of .817 with 22 homers, 18 steals, and 98 runs in just 597 plate appearances. Thanks frankly ridiculous, and if Mike Trout didn't exist, Harper would've gotten even more pub. I won't make the leap to say that he'll be a top-10/elite player this year, but it's reasonable to expect a small bump, and he's a 5-6-win player for me in year two. If I asked the general baseball public who led the Nats in WAR last year, Harper would've been the default answer, but the actual answer is Ian Desmond. The shortstop hit .292/.335/.511 with 25 homers and 21 steals, which is absolutely ridiculous from an above-average defensive guy at that position, and he's a legit star if he can replicate that. All indications are that the batting average was a bit lucky (career high .332 BABIP), but if he hits .275 with 18 and 18, that's pretty awesome from shortstop. Zimmerman and LaRoche have some injury concerns, but both guys are 25-30 home run locks at the corners if they get the at-bats, and there's safety in that. In the rest of the outfield, Denard Span was brought in from Minnesota, and I've always loved him. He's an awesome defender with a good OBP (career .357), good speed, and enough doubles power to be useful. Jayson Werth is easily the highest paid player on the team (lol), but for all of the negative publicity around that contract (and it was awful), Werth is still a good baseball player. He's a bad defensive center-fielder (which killed his WAR last year), but he's moving to a corner where he's fine-or-better and I think he's good for 20-ish homers and a .350 OBP. If he's your biggest concern, you're loaded. Espinosa provides some nice pop and positional flexibility from 2nd-base, and Ramos (or backup Kurt Suzuki) should be average behind the plate with some upside.

Projected - Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler

This is kind of a crazy top-four. Strasburg is the best young pitcher in all of baseball, and if he simply maintains his 2012 level (3.16 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 11.13 K/9) over 190-200 innings instead of 160, he's a top-5 pitcher in 2013 who could lead the NL in strikeouts. I could throw superlatives as Strasburg all day, but he's elite. After that, Zimmerman and Gonzalez were tremendous in 2012 and there's no reason to think that won't continue. Zimmerman isn't a high-strikeout guy (7.04 K/9) but he's got elite control, and posted a 2.94 ERA over 195 innings in 2012. Gonzalez won 20 games (which doesn't matter), but more importantly, he struck out 200+ guys and had a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP over 199 innings. There's some concern over a potential PED suspension for Gonzalez after the Miami scandal, but if he's there, he's a great pitcher. Dan Haren arrives from LA with little pressure and if he's your 4th starter, it's an embarrassment of riches. Haren had the worst year of his career in 2012, but he was unquestionably hurt and still managed to throw 176 innings of league-average baseball. I think he returns to an ERA in the 3.50-3.60 range over 200 innings, and that's awesome for a 4th guy. Detwiler rounds things out in the 5th spot, and he's the prototypical 5th guy. Zero strikeout potential (less than 6 per 9), but he did finish 2012 with a 3.40 ERA, and they'd take anything below a 4.00. It's a monster rotation.

Projected - Rafael Soriano (closer), Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Ryan Mattheus

This is a monster late-inning combination. Soriano was brought in from NY to take the closer spot, and he's always good when healthy. He saved 42 games with a 2.26 ERA and 9.18 K/9 last season for the Yankees, and he's got a career ERA of 2.78 over 502 innings. They hung on to Drew Storen (the former "closer" of the future") and Tyler Clippard to set Soriano up, and while Clippard is more of a multi-inning guy, both pitchers are top-notch in that role and should produce sub-3.00 ERA's with good stuff. Stammen and Duke are both very good middle guys, and this is a deep, talented bullpen.


Because of the pitching depth (and I'm all-in on Dan Haren) and a deep, talented, high-upside lineup combined with a good bullpen, I think Washington is the best team in the league on paper. There isn't a weak spot in their game, and while the other contenders have "weaker"/unsettled areas (Braves' starting pitching, Detroit's defense, LA's starting pitching), Washington is rock solid. Throw in the upside of Strasburg throwing 200 innings or a full-on breakout from Harper, and things get crazy. They could go 100+ wins if everything goes well, but I'll stop just short and project 99-63. What a team.


99-63, 1st in NL East

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