2012 Outlook: Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are coming off the best season of their existence, going 80-81. Their pitching wasn’t great, it ranked towards the bottom half of the league, and their offense was middle of the pack as well. Jordan Zimmermann  was the best pitcher for the Nationals, and on the offensive side Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa were the leaders. The Nationals made some significant additions this off-season though, so they should be much better.

Michael Morse’s power continued right where it left off from last season. His .303/.360/.50 (147 wRC+) was really impressive, it was even more impressive than the numbers he put up in 2010. He still showed that he had a good eye at the plate, only striking out a little more than 20% of the time. His .344 BABIP may have been of some help, but in 2010 he also had a BABIP of .330. In the field he is somewhat of a liability though. Initially LaRoche will probably start at first, but if he gets hurt or struggles, Morse would step in. For now Morse will play LF though.  It’s no secret that the Nationals are looking for a center fielder, until they find one though, Roger Bernadina will start in center. Offensively he’ll be a liability, but he offers some value defensively. Jayson Werth is trying to put his 2010 season in the past. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but it wasn’t up to Werth’s standards. He saw his ISO numbers drop, and his wRC+ was only 103. All in all he accumulated 2.5 WAR. He saw his BABIP take a hit (.324 career, .286 last season) so he should see some improvement, and the Nationals need him to.

At second Danny Espinosa was a nice surprise. He showed that the power that he displayed in the minors was real (.178 ISO), but he struggled with strike outs, striking out over 25% of the time. It’s not known how good he’ll be on defense yet, but as long as he maintains his offensive production his spot in the line-up should be safe. Shortstop Ian Desmond hasn’t been as impressive. He’s posted two straight seasons where he was below average offensively, on defense he hasn’t been terrible though. If he doesn’t take the next step the Nationals could be looking for a shortstop in the near future.

For the time being Adam LaRoche will play first. LaRoche is coming off a season where he missed most of it due to injury. He’s has a history of being a second half player, so if he struggles look for the Nationals to move some players around. Ryan Zimmerman also had an injury plagued season. Before he got hurt he was having a nice season. His .289/.355/.443 (119 wRC+) were almost identical to his career norms. He did see his power take a big hit though,  the Nationals need to see that come back this season. He’s also looking for a new contract so he needs to stay healthy and post big numbers. If Wilson Ramos continues his progression he should become a top tier catcher. He’s shown above average power numbers, and a good eye at the plate. With Derrick Norris being traded in the Gio Gonzalez trade, Ramos should feel good going forward with the Nationals.

The Nationals pitching has the potential to be really good this season. Stephen Strasburg will be the ace of the staff, and should be fully healed from Tommy John surgery. Before he got hurt in 2010 Strasburg was on his way to being one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. In 68 innings he struck out over 30% of the batters he faced, while walking only 6%. His ERA was a ridiculous 2.91, and his 2.04 xFIP and 2.20 SIERA say he could have been even better. Remember that 68 innings is a really small sample size though. Assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks, Strasburg should dominate this season. Jordan Zimmermann was coming off Tommy John surgery as well. He doesn’t strikeout guys as much as Strasburg, but he is a great number two pitcher. He had a 3.18 ERA, his xFIP was 3.78 and his SIERA was 3.70 so he should expect some regression, but he should have a really good season. New comer Gio Gonzalez should slide into the third spot. Gonzalez can strikeout his share of batters, but he has a problem with his control. He walks over 11% of batters he faces for his career, so that’s a number he needs to decrease. His ERA should be around 3.60-3.70 making him a very good third starter. Edwin Jackson also joined the Nationals this off-season, and should fit right in at number four. His ERA finally met up with his peripherals, and if he can be just as last year he’ll be a steal for the Nationals. Assuming John Lannan doesn’t get traded, a combination of himself, Chien -Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler should manage to get some starts.

Tyler Clippard is the best reliever for the Nationals, he struck out over 30% of the batters he faced last season, but his ERA should see some decline this year. Drew Storen is the closer, he strikes out roughly 24% of the batters he faces, and his peripherals say his ERA could see a decrease. Craig Stammen and Yunesky Maya are some other names to look out for.

Overall this team could be contend for a wild card spot next season. The pitching should be very good, it has the potential to be one of the best in the league. The offense should see an improvement, and if phenom Bryce Harper gets called up and produces right off the bat (no pun intended) they could be even better. All in all, the Nationals could look at 83-85 wins this season, maybe more if they’re lucky.

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