Christopher Soto - Scouting the Enemy | Washington Nationals


2016 Recap  

     The Washington Nationals finished 2016 as the National League East championship with a 95-67 record. Despite some excellent offensive season from the likes of 2B Daniel Murphy and C Wilson Ramos, the team's offense, as a whole, was basically MLB average as it ranked 17th in batting average and 12th in the MLB in terms of OPS. The key to the Nationals season was their pitching.....both in the rotation AND in the bullpen. Led by ace SP Max Scherzer, the Nats starting rotation was 2nd best in baseball with a 3.60 ERA and the bullpen was also 2nd best with a 3.37 ERA. So what does 2017 look like for them?

Off-season Review

     The Nationals have some serious payroll constrictions due to their continuing battle for TV rights in the state of Maryland. This pretty much limited the team to only offering deferred money contracts like they did with Max Scherzer.

     At catcher, an significant knee injury killed any chance that Wilson Ramos, along with his .307 AVG and 22 HR, had at signing a new contract with the team. Instead he ended up settling for an incentives laden contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. To replace him the Nationals traded a minor leaguer to the San Diego Padres for Derek Norris. At least.....that was the plan.....until Matt Wieters found himself still on the free agent market as spring training camps opened. The team decided that Wieters was a better option than Norris, released Derek, and signed Matt to a 2 year contract worth $21M, deferring half of contract to be paid in future undisclosed years.

     The team also made a large trade with the Chicago White Sox sending top prospects SP Lucas Giolito and SP Reynaldo Lopez to them in exchange for RF Adam Eaton. Eaton is a solid lead-off contributor who is good for a .280+ batting average, 10-15 HR, and 15-20 SB. However, with Harper already in RF, the Nationals plan to use Eaton as their CF, as position he was recently moved AWAY from due to poor defensive metrics in 2015 and 2016. As a result of this move, Danny Espinosa was shipped out of town to the Los Angeles Angels allowing rising star Trea Turner to return to his natural position at SS.

2017 Offense

     Besides the moves above, the rest of the offense is pretty much the same. Going from Ramos to Wieters is going to be a significant decline but this is offset by the improvement from swapping Espinosa with Adam Eaton. Overall, this is an offense that is going to hinge on 2 things.

     A) Can Daniel Murphy continue being a middle of the line-up offensive force? If he regresses back towards his normal career numbers, the Nationals don't really have any other options for the 3 hole as Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have both declined to replacement level players.

     B) Which Bryce Harper is the real one? Is he the MVP Caliber .330 AVG with 40+ HR power that he displayed in 2015? Or is he the guy who hit .270 AVG with 20-25 HR and a 21% K rate in the other 4 of his 5 seasons thus far?

     If the answer to both of these is Yes....than expect the Nationals to have one of the better offenses in the MLB this season capable of finishing Top 10. If not....then another mid level finish is probably safe to assume.

2017 Rotation

     The same exact rotation that finished 2nd in the MLB in ERA is what the Nationals will trot out there in 2017. There is a significant difference though in regards to the depth behind the front 5. History tells us that SPs can AND WILL break. Teams generally need at least 7-8 SPs to get through an entire season. In 2016, those guys were A.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez, and Lucas Giolito. 

     Oh...whoops...Giolito and Lopez are gone.....and A.J. Cole could be hurt significantly as he was recently shut down from throwing due to tricep tendinitis (a pre-cursor to a possible elbow injury). Should an injury occur....there are NO remaining SPs on the 40 man roster. The Nationals do have Jeremy Guthrie and Vance Worley in camp as non-roster invitees....but both are clearly inferior options to the 5 guys above. 

     Lastly, a major concern out of camp continues to be the condition of Max Scherzer's fractured middle finger from July of last year. Thus far, Scherzer has only been able to participate in 1 Grapefruit league game due to the fact that he cannot use his normal fastball grip. Scherzer has been throwing bullpen sessions and playing in minor league games using a modified 3 figured grip but one has to wonder how much longer Scherzer can continue pushing through this discomfort.

     If the Nationals stay healthy....they are a easily Top 5 rotation again in 2017. However, the rotation could unravel very quickly should an injury occur to any of the front 5 or if Scherzer suffers any lose of "stuff" from his fractured fingered 

2017 Bullpen

     Wait....that's a lot more than 7 guys!?!? 

     Yes....indeed it is. The Nationals lost Jonathan Papelbon, Mark Melancon, Felipe Rivero, Yusmiero Petit,  Marc Rzepczynski, and Matt Belisle from last year's stellar bullpen. That's 234 IP lost, aka almost 50% of the bullpen work from 2016. What's left over is a hodge podge of young arms with potential upside + a few aging veterans that the club is hoping can pull together and be effective.

     To date the club has still not decided on who will be controlling the 9th inning but manager Dusty Baker has stated that it will most certainly not be a "by committee" approach. Reportedly they are leaning towards Koda Glover which would put Kelley into the 8th inning set-up role and Joe Blanton/Blake Trienen in the short inning relief roles with Oliver Perez as the LOOGY. While this gives the club a lot of K potential....there is also a lot of BBs there. We could very well see some games unravel quickly if teams are able to work counts and push the National starter out of games early.

     There is no way that the bullpen is going to repeat it's 2016 performance. At best, I would think that the Nationals are just hoping for this group to not "hurt" them and finish around middle of pact in the MLB.

2017 Team Forecast

     All together, I am projecting the Nationals to finish 2nd in the NL East with a 90-72 record. The offense will certainly be better with a full season of Trea Turner and the addition of Adam Eaton, but the absurd lack of SP depth as well as the lack experience in the bullpen is most certainly going to rear its ugly head. While Scherzer seems capable of pitching through this finger issue.....the Nationals still have other injury concerns in the rotation. Joe Ross has yet to pitch a full season, Stephen Strasburg is coming off of 2 injury plagued years, and Gio Gonzalez's performance has been slowly declining since his banner year in 2012.


Mack Ade said...

As usual, a ++ post from Soto

Reese Kaplan said...

With Turner no longer a good sub but a regular it thins an already weak bench. I think you were too dismissive of Danny Espinosa. Yes, he only hit .209 but in just over 500 ABs he hit 24 HRs and drove in 72. In effect he's replaced by Eaton who provided 14/59 in 700 ABs. For these reasons plus what you've outlined I agree to see major regression by the Nats, perhaps even more than what you've projected.

Christopher Soto said...

Sure, Espinosa's overall stat line didn't look atrocious...but most of that damage came in a 30 game spurt in the middle of the season.

(which I greatly enjoyed on my fantasy team...lol)

From May 26th to July 3rd

.296 AVG, 15 HR, 33 RBI

All other times

.185 AVG, 9 HR, 39 RBI

Thomas Brennan said...

Trea Turner had absolutely amazing #s last year. A rebounding Harper and strong Murphy could give them a truly lethal trio. I agree, though, Chris 90 wins, maybe 92, for the Nats. May we swat the Nats in 2017.

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