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The Nationals are scary (but not in a good way)
The Washington Nationals are an awesome team. They have some of the best players in all of baseball at the top of their roster and should be a very good team this season. Any team with Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg is going to be good and will always be in the thick of the playoff race.
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Let’s start with the good though. Bryce Harper should have a better year in 2017. He was the MVP in 2015 as a 9.5 WAR player and dropped all the way down to 3.5 last season. There have been numerous stories that he played injured in 2016 and, even if that’s not the case, he should have a bounce back year. Splitting the difference would be great, closer to 2015 would be amazing. He could have a season that makes us forget this whole post. Then you have a full season of Trea Turner which looks to be a very good thing, Anthony Rendon, the continually awesome Daniel Murphy and the very solid Anthony Rendon.
On the pitching side, it’s the two big obvious names and then Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross who have each shown their own bit of promise. In the bullpen it’s Shawn Kelley and… that’s about it.
The problem isn’t their top 10 players, as Dave Cameron at Fangraphs pointed out they are projected at 36.3 WAR from these ten, but just 46 WAR overall. Injuries should really scare this team and depth is a serious problem. There are a lot of older players on this team that could be susceptible to injury and that changes things greatly.
Take for instance, the rotation. According to their Fangraphs Depth Chart, they are projected for 22.4 wins from their pitching staff. That’s great, good for fifth in baseball. However, 10.3 of those wins come from Scherzer and Strasburg. Take one of those two away and suddenly we are looking at middle of the pack.
Let’s just assume good health for Harper and Turner because assuming otherwise would be evil. Throw in Rendon too. Outside of those two, this team is filled with question marks. Second baseman Daniel Murphy, who should really be playing first, is dealing with a glute injury that could be recurring. Actual first baseman Ryan Zimmerman played in just 115 games last year, his highest in three years, and just had a season with a career low walk rate and career high strikeout rate. He could be done. Left fielder Jayson Werth will be 38 this season and derives all his value from his bat as he is far below average on defense. He’s at an age where he could be done as well.
If something happens to one of those three, a good bet, and you have a completely different lineup. Stephen Drew at second, Clint Robinson at first, Ben Revere back in center. They got rid of Danny Espinosa and seem committed to Turner at shortstop so they lost a potential centerfielder there. There are just a lot of questions and not a lot of answers to be found on the bench.
We haven’t even mentioned catcher where they lost Wilson Ramos and replaced him with Derek Norris. He has a solid history and has improved his pitch framing, but last year he also hit .186/.255/.328 which I don’t even know how that’s possible. Back up Jose Lobaton doesn’t offer much hope either.
Finally, there is the bullpen which doesn’t look good. They don’t have anyone with closing experience and only Shawn Kelley has ever posted a season above 1.0 WAR out of the bullpen. There just isn’t anyone here who you expect a breakout from and it’s weird that they didn’t address this in some way this offseason. I know they missed out on Kenley Jansen, but still. It’s not like there weren’t other options. They’ve been linked to David Robertson of the White Sox, but I’m not sure that’s an answer either.
I think the Nationals will be good, I want the Nationals to be good, but there are four spots that are giving me red flags on the offensive side and I don’t see any relief if they do go bad. Pitching is always worrisome and the depth isn’t there either. Maybe things will go right, maybe everyone will stay healthy and maybe Bryce Harper will make us forget the whole thing. That’s a big if though and this is a team I’ll be watching very closely to see if everything goes wrong.
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