Archive for the ‘Washington Nationals’ Category

As a single man without any legitimate children that I’m aware of I don’t have to deal with any of the problems that arise when it comes to raising a brood. Thus far I’ve managed to get by just doing Uncle things, which mainly involves contracting my nieces and nephews to get me things like beer and candy from the other room while I’m laying on the couch watching sports. Even without any parenting experience of my own, I think we can all take a minute to sit back and enjoy the entry into the pantheon of parenting.

A better angle is after the jump  Read the rest of this entry »

Florida Marlins v. Washington Nationals

There is no fate worse than peaking early. One of my good high school friends was bigger than everyone else at 11-years old, which is to say he was the best athlete at 11. He was the star of the baseball and hockey teams because he was big and coordinated, a deadly combination during the nascent days of puberty.

Unfortunately, that high level of athletic achievement at such a tender age took its toll. My dear friend blew out his shoulder as a teenager and was never the same. Watching poor Ian gather, hop and throw only to see the ball limply roll from his fingertips wasn’t easy, though it got pretty funny when we are all too old to play house league baseball.

This friend of mine might as well be Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman was really good until his shoulder exploded. Now he’s back (and inevitably full of cortisone!) with a brand new throwing motion, one designed to jib with his wonky shoulder. The early results are…terrifying?

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St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals

2012 Record: 98-64, 1st NL East
2012 Pythagorean Record: 96-66
Impact Player: LF Bryce Harper
Impact Pitcher: RHP Stephen Strasburg
Top Prospect: 3B Anthony Rendon

Significant Acquisitions: CF Denard Span, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Rafael Soriano, LHP Fernando Abad, UT Will Rhymes

Significant Departures: RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Sean Burnett, LF/1B Mike Morse, LHP Mike Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny OF Rick Ankiel, C Jesus Flores, OF/1B Xavier Nady, UT Mark DeRosa

The city of Washington and baseball futility go hand-in-hand. No Washington franchise had made a playoff appearance since 1933 until last season when the Nationals—as a result of smart and opportunistic drafting and savvy additions from outside the organization—won 98 games and cruised to the NL East title. The rotation was among the healthiest and easily the most talented in baseball, the bullpen was deep and impactful and the lineup scored the fifth-most runs in the NL.

Then, disaster. The Nationals and Cardinals split the first four games of their NLDS series in October and Washington held a commanding 6-0 lead in the decisive fifth game before the bullpen—capped off by an awful performance from closer Drew Storen—blew the lead and lost the game, ending their season.

Playoff disappointments aside, the Nationals look poised to be World Series contenders for years to come with an incredible young core of excellent players including first overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and other franchise cornerstones like Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

Pitching

The Nationals stuck with their plan of shutting down Strasburg at 160 innings (he pitched 159 1/3) in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Barring further arm injury, this should be the year they turn him loose. His strikeout rate topped 30% and his 11.13 K/9 was the highest for a starting pitcher since Kerry Wood struck out 11.35 batters per nine innings in 2003. If he can stay healthy enough to throw 220 or more innings, we could see some truly historic numbers from the 24-year-old.

The Nationals have two other legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitchers as well in Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann — both entering just their age-27 seasons. Gonzalez led the NL among qualified starters in strike-out rate last season and also gave up a league low 0.41 HR/9. His 5.4 WAR according to FanGraphs trailed only Clayton Kershaw among NL pitchers. Zimmermann, meanwhile, also put up an excellent season posting a 3.56 K/BB ratio and a 2.94 ERA in 32 starts.

The Nationals chose not to re-sign Edwin Jackson after his one-year pillow contract in D.C. was up; Jackson wound up with the Cubs on a four-year deal. To replace him, Washington is bringing in another pitcher on a one-year stop gap contract in Dan Haren. Haren’s upside is much higher than Jackson’s, but given the back and arm problems he suffered last season, Haren might not be quite as good. Despite being nagged by injuries all last season, Haren still made 30 starts and had a better K/BB ratio than Zimmermann, but he gave up 28 home runs in only 176 2/3 innings. If he’s healthy and can keep the home run-rate down, he could still be a decent mid-rotation option for Washington.

The final spot in the rotation will go to left-hander Ross Detwiler who pitched in 164 1/3 innings last season and fared well posting a 3.40 ERA. His middling strike out- and walk-rates suggest there could be some regression, but he should still be more than adequate in the fifth spot. If he completely falls apart, the Nats are thin on the depth chart with Yunesky Maya and converted reliever Ryan Perry appearing to be the best choices in the minors.

The bullpen is the only part of the team that looks drastically different than it did a year ago. Gone are three southpaws in Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny and in is new closer Rafael Soriano who signed a two-year, $28-million deal with a vesting option for 2015. The Nats now posses three excellent high-leverage relievers at the back-end of the bullpen in Soriano, Storen and Tyler Clippard.

They didn’t do much to replace the three departing left-handers and will head north with only one southpaw in the ‘pen in veteran Zach Duke who had a 1.32 ERA in only 13 2/3 innings last season. Clippard does seem to have a pretty consistent track record of reverse splits and can handle some of the tough lefties in opposing lineups. The Nats recently signed veteran lefty J.C. Romero as an insurance policy, though he begins the season in Triple-A.

High-upside and high-velocity arms like Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez will fill out the pen with long-man Craig Stammen who could, in theory, start if someone gets hurt. Stammen was excellent in 88 1/3 innings last season—the most of any reliever in baseball besides Josh Roenicke who pitched in 1/3 of an inning more for the Rockies.

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Lineup

The Nationals scored the fifth-most runs in the NL last season and by all accounts should be even better in that regard this year. First off, they’ll get a full season from Harper in left field who was impressive as a teenager in 2012 posting a .352 wOBA and 22 home runs. The 20-year-old phenom is poised to put up some monster numbers and should continue to get better over the next few years.

The rest of the Nats outfield will also get a boost with the addition of Denard Span to play center. Span has been a better-than-average hitter the last few years in Minnesota and is a spectacular defender. His on-base abilities and speed make him an ideal leadoff hitter to slide in ahead of the big bats in the middle of the order. In right field will be Jayson Werth who should be healthier this year after a wrist injury kept him out for half the year in 2012. He may not be worth his cumbersome contract, but he’s still a very good player who’s above average in all facets of the game.

It’s expected that the three outfielders will occupy the top three spots in the order ahead of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman managed to stay on the field last season for the most part and posted a 121 wRC+ and 25 home runs. Recurring problems with his throwing shoulder may eventually move him to first base but he should be good for another year or two at the hot corner.

Washington waited out first baseman Adam LaRoche and allowed him to test free agency this winter, but they ended up re-signing him to a two-year deal with a third-year option at reasonable dollars. He was a better hitter than Zimmerman last season and will make a nice stop-gap until top prospect Anthony Rendon is ready and pushes Zimmerman across the diamond.

In the middle infield will be Desmond at short and Danny Espinosa at second. After a disastrous 2011, Desmond lived up to some of his promise in 2012 hitting 25 home runs and posting a 128 wRC+ while improving his defense greatly at short. According to FanGraphs, he was the most valuable position player on the team last season. Espinosa, meanwhile, showed some pop with 17 home runs and hit well enough to keep his job. If he regresses, Steve Lombardozzi isn’t much worse overall.

Wilson Ramos had the year from hell in 2012. After being kidnapped prior to the season in his native Venezuela he got hurt during the year and played in only 25 games. If he’s healthy, he could be a first-division starter, but he’ll share playing time with Kurt Suzuki at least to start the year.

Defense

Washington turned batted balls into outs better than any other NL team last season and with the addition of Span in center and a healthy Werth in right, they could be even better in 2013. Both Suzuki and Ramos are excellent defenders behind the plate as well and Espinosa and Desmond are solid up the middle. Despite his arm problems, Zimmerman is at least average at third and LaRoche is about as good as a first baseman can be.

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2013 Outlook

Most people didn’t expect the Nationals to be quite so good last season, but they arrived a year ahead of schedule. Now that they have arrived, the weight of expectations will be placed upon a team whose cornerstones are still very young. They have easily the most talent of any team in baseball, but also could have some issues if injuries strike—something that didn’t really happen to them much last season, at least on the pitching staff. The only real threat to their second-straight division crown is the Braves, but either way they should make the playoff without too much trouble. Once they do, that pitching staff will be awfully tough to overthrow.

2013 Prediction: 97-65, 1st NL East 

For a detailed depth chart with statistics, click here. Stats obtained from FanGraphs (Washington’s team page here) and Baseball Prospectus. Depth chart info provided by MLB Depth Charts.

Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals

In the ongoing saga of MLB players and the Miami New Times report on PEDs, Gio Gonzalez has stood his ground. The Washington Nationals left-hander was quick to issue a statement condemning the report’s inclusion of his name, despite what any Biogenesis ledger said.

Gonzalez, it has been purported, was not directly linked to any substances that appear on MLB’s banned list. According to a report from the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, Gonzalez is claiming to have been tested just two days after the release of the Miami New Times’ report. Predictably, Gonzalez reports a pass in his January 31st test.

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micah-owings

Remember Rick Ankiel? His story is a pretty terrific. Insanely talented pitcher gets yips, blows up on National TV. Nearly driven to madness, can’t miss prospect gives up pitching in pursuit of career as outfielder. More amazingly, Rick Ankiel actually pieced together something of a career as an outfielder. How good? Let’s play a little game.

(Note: some creative liberties taken with Ankiel Redemption Arc. We’re making show business here, people!)

Who is up for a little bit of player A/player B?

PA HR SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Player A 1693 56 20 8% 25.1% .174 .297 .242 .307 .416 .314 92 4.1
Player B 1062 32 18 7.8% 26.7% .167 .316 .248 .309 .415 .316 93 2.1

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Things are good in Natsland. The team is laden for talent for the 2013 season, spirits are high among the fanbase, William Howard Taft is onboard and the Stephen Strasburg shutown thing is in the past. Natitude is at an all time high.

With things going as well as they are in D.C., the talk turns to keeping their core in place long term. Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman is the most likely candidate for a contract extension, fielding questions and candidly discussing the matter at this past weekend’s Gnatfest (a celebration of bugs.)

Zimmerman isn’t the only player the team might lock up. Ian Desmond is fresh off a terrific season as the Nats shortstop and into his arbitration years. Like Zimmerman, Desmond isn’t eligible to become a free agent until 2016. Unlike Zimmerman, Ian Desmond doesn’t have the strongest track record to work off.

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Courtesy of the AP

It was nearly 110 years ago when the 26th President of the United States of America Theordore Roosevelt named William Howard Taft his Secretary of War, a move many believed Teddy made with an eye to the future – grooming the heft man from Ohio as his successor in the nation’s highest office.

Fast-forward to this past Saturday when, after some cursory wikipedia-ing, somebody in the Nationals office realized this rich vein of comedy must not go unmined. With more fanfare than just about anything in this world deserves, the Washington Nationals announced William Howard Taft is the fifth president in their famous fourth inning race.

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