A song to play while you’re reading about the Nationals: “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor. This team will be fine with Bryce Harper hitting 40 homers for a division rival. Just…just fine.
The Washington Nationals had crap luck in 2018, going 18-24 in one-run games (a .500 record in these games would not have closed the gap in the division, granted–condolences to the Reds). Moreover, the Nationals’ Pythagorean W-L was 90-72, with a +89 run differential. All else being equal, the Nationals would be better with a do-over. All else is not equal, though, as the Mets, Phillies, and Braves all made moves to improve this off season.
The better news for the 2019 Washington Nationals is that they have addressed several major areas of need. Yan Gomes is a promising mid-career, one-time all-star catcher with a reputation for helping improve his pitching staff. FanGraphs’ new pitch framing evaluation backs up that Gomes modestly improves his pitchers’ performance through framing. He is also 87% of the way to triple-digits in career dingers. In addition to Gomes, the Nationals brought in up-and-coming power hitting catcher Kurt Suzuki (age is an illusion).
Ryan Zimmerman is on the wrong end of his career, but will still start when healthy in 2019. Zim had a huge season in 2017, when he somehow hit over .300 with 36 home runs, but it is a lot easier to see him repeating 2018 than 2017. Getting only .259 (ZIPS) out of first base is going to be a real drag on the lineup.
Anthony Rendon is projected to regress some from the last two seasons. His BABIP in 2017 was .314 and in 2018 was .323, which ZIPS anticipates falling to about .301 which I assume accounts for most of that regression. Tony Two-Bags’ career BABIP is .314, so I am not inclined to believe he necessarily should revert all the way to .300. Rendon is the rock of this lineup, and the Nationals will need for him to maintain the production they have come to rely on in the middle of the order. Rendon should be the reliable production cold cuts in the sandwich that is the aging face of the franchise Zimmerman and the rising star Juan Soto. Michael A. Taylor is the mayonnaise.
The hope among Nationals fans is that Ted Lerner’s money that did not go to Harper will be used to lock up Rendon during the last year of his contract. Baseball players are the only thing Ted Lerner spends his money on that sparks any joy. Spend it on Tony, Ted. Show the world you’re better than Peter Angelos.
The Nationals’ biggest strength is, of course, the rotation. Max Scherzer is a truly incredible pitcher. Patrick Corbin is a pure upgrade from either Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark, whomever you thought was the #3 starter in 2018. Stephen Strasburg is apparently a reliable 3 WAR pitcher for ⅔ of a season. Anibal Sanchez is probably the best #4 starter in the NL East. Last year the Nationals’ plan was to have every starter average 8 innings and give the ball to Sean Doolittle. Kyle Barraclaugh and Trevor Rosenthal may manage to ease that burden, or everyone will get hurt or suck again. Feel the excitement.
Win total prediction: 94
What is the Nationals’ most recent accomplishment?
The Nationals had an incredibly disappointing 2018 season, but saw the breakout of the second-most promising prospect in the system. When Harper rejected the Nationals’ heavily-deferred $300 million contract offer, the team did their best to heat the stove, bringing in Corbin, Dozier, Gomes, Sanchez, Suzuki, Barraclough and Rosenthal. With Robles, the system’s top prospect, now healthy, and with several weeks of big league service time to his name, it could be a new day in D.C.
How will the Nationals define success in 2019?
Make the NLCS.
The most Effectively Wild player on the Nationals: Brian Dozier
The answer would have been Matt Wieters. But with the departure of Baltimore’s failed lefty-catcher experiment, the most Effectively Wild player on the team is newcomer Brian Dozier. After catcher, the biggest hole in the Nationals’ lineup at the end of 2018 was second base, vacated by Daniel Murphy, whose inability to resist being homophobic in public became the Cubs’ problem mid-season. Filling that hole is Dozier, signed to a 1-year contract while the Nats groom the more talented of the two Kiebooms in the organization. If Daniel Murphy is the Che Guevara of the Fly Ball Revolution, the Nationals are hoping they have found their Raul Castro.
2019 promo worth the price of admission
Nothing will beat Michael A. Tater, which is in the running for greatest giveaway ever.
However, Friday April 12 is the Juan Soto bobblehead giveaway. He’s the next next Babe Ruth. I am ashamed to say that I have not been to Nationals Park since 2013, when I left the East Coast, but when I was there, Nationals Park was by far the shortest line available for a Shake Shack, which was conveniently also the best food in the stadium. There are more new options this season than I can realistically describe, so check out this story from the Washington Post.
…and finally, a haiku for 2019:
Soulless stadium Next post: Season Preview Series 2019: Milwaukee Brewers
New kid wonder at the bat
Pitch–see you later.
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