The Washington Nationals and Roster Construction

The 2013 Nationals roster, when compared to other perceived contenders
has one advantage: The Nationals have the most complete roster in baseball.
They lack the star power of a Josh Hamilton or a Prince Fielder, but what they
lack in star power they make up for in having solid two way players at every
position. The only real questions on the Nationals roster are who will be the
sixth and seventh man out of the bullpen and if Ramos is healthy enough to be a
productive major league catcher at the start of the season.  

In 2012 the Nationals had a few
weaknesses. Without Ramos the Nationals got below average production from the
catcher’s spot producing a .659 OPS for the season. Kurt Suzuki was acquired from
Oakland and in 43 games for the Nationals in 2012 produced right the .725 OPS
level of an average NL catcher. The Nats two main flaws though were outfield
defense and the lack of a lead-off hitter. Denard Span solves both of those
issues. His defense in center and pushing Harper to left will upgrade the Nats
outfield defense monumentally.  

In 2012 Nats lead-off hitters combined
for a .325 OBP and that includes the .388 OBP Jayson Werth produced in 38
games. For his career Denard Span has a .359 OBP. If he can simply produce at
his average level then the Nationals have improved their two biggest 2012
weaknesses with one move.

Every member of the 2012 Nationals has
the reputation as an above average offensive and defensive player. The one
people might question is Danny Espinosa but in his terrible offensive year of
2012 he produced a .717 OPS when the MLB average for second base is .701. When
looking at Danny Espinosa a person can get caught up in the minutia of strike
outs or they can appreciate the player that he is and recognize him for
the above average offensive production and elite defense.  

Every position on the Nationals has the
chance to be above average offensively and to be solid in the field. The last
piece of this puzzle was Adam LaRoche. If the Nats had gone with Morse at first
they would have had better offensive production, but would have missed the
defense and the Nats are built not just to score runs but to prevent them as
well. Having so many players that can do both is rare and unique and a reason
that the Nationals are expected to be quite good once again in 2013.

Being built to be as good as the Nats
look on paper doesn’t guarantee them much. The Rays, Brewers, Dodgers, Angels,
and White Sox were all over .500 teams in 2012 and all of them missed the
playoffs. That doesn’t mean they weren’t good teams it just means that enough
went wrong with those teams that didn’t with others, and a team like the Rays,
who won 90 games, plays in an incredibly tough division. The Nats are built to
be a great team, but a couple of injuries to the starting rotation and they may
settle for being a good team.  

The most likely outcome is that the Nats
win a lot of games and go to the playoffs again, but as Nats fans learned in
Game 5, baseball will break your heart. Being the best or most well-built team
means little in a short series in the playoffs. The Nats are built to be very
good over the course of 162 games and there isn’t much that can stop that. A
player like Jayson Werth who had a disappointing 2011 and an injury plagued
2012 could be better than both seasons simply by playing more at his career
average level. If Werth plays to his career .267/.362/.462 batting line more
than his .300/.388/.440 2012 batting line he will be a higher WAR player by
playing more games.

There are other Nats that could suffer a
form of regression. The question remains if Gio Gonzalez’s 2012 was a breakout
season or a career year. The same goes for Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper could
suffer a typical sophomore slump. Even if everything goes wrong for
those players it will be counter balanced by better outfield defense and
production from the lead-off spot, more playing time for Strasburg, Storen, and
Zimmerman, and breakout years from other players like Danny Espinosa and Jordan
Zimmermann.  

With as many talented players as the
Nats have a down or injured year from one player can be balanced by a breakout
season from another. It happened in 2012. While Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth
both dealt with injuries in 2012 Ian Desmond had a massive breakout season. The
very same thing could happen in 2013 with different players struggling and
others breaking out. It all sort of means the average level of production for
the Nats should be considered to be the most likely outcome, and when the
rosters average career fWARs are added up and added to the expected win total
from a replacement level team (45) the Nats should be just as good in 2013 as
they were in 2012 if not a little bit better. 

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2 comments

  1. I have to admit to being shocked at the lackluster league average offensive production from 2B, maybe as Nats fans we see too much of Utley & Uggla. I knew Espi was in the tops among 2Bmen in WAR, but I always thought that was derived primarily from his defense (that +12 uzr/150 is outrageously good).

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