The Washington Nationals: World Series or Bust

I am going to admit from the start I don’t like thinking of this season as “World
Series or bust”. It isn’t that I don’t think the team should be thinking that
way it is more I don’t like the concept. A team that
is continually being tied to the 2013 Washington Nationals is the
2011 Boston Red Sox. Mainly because that was the last team so heavily favored
and they failed to make the post-season. It is a word of warning, but that team
did win 90 games and would have made the post-season as the second Wild Card
under the current system. A Wild Card spot isn’t what the Nationals want, and
90 games will be viewed as a disappointment, but it is hard to call a 90 win
season a bust.  

The main reason the Nationals are in
this position is that unbiased computer projection systems continue spitting
out insane results. Even the conservative estimate that PECOTA spat out of 88
wins still has the Nationals winning the division by six games. Most other projection
systems are higher and ZiPS even goes so far as to say the Nationals have a 27%
chance of winning over 100 games. This is all insanity, but even my own
projection system of taking the players average career WAR and making some
logical adjustments for pitchers like Strasburg who has never pitched 200
innings comes out to 98 wins. Then there is this from Natstradamus
that also came out to 98 wins.

I decided to take projecting in a
different direction and threw out computers and stats and decided instead to
use the logic of my brain. I stared at the Nats schedule until a number came to
me. Here is what happened. The Nats play each team in their division 18 times
and I figure they are even with the Braves so 9-9, slightly better than the
Phillies so 10-8, and much better than the Mets or Marlins so 12-6 each there.
That is a total number of wins in the division of 43. That leaves 90 games
outside of the division with around 30 coming against the five teams in the NL
Central and West. Figure in those 60 games the Nats go 35-25 and in the
remaining 30 mostly against the AL Central and the Orioles the Nats go 20-10
since aside from the Tigers the AL Central is a weak division. That gives the
Nats 55 additional wins. Add that to the previous 43 and the total is once
again 98.  

The number 98 keeps coming up. It is
the number of games the Nats won in 2012 and it is the number of games a lot of
people are going to project them to win in 2013. It is hard to imagine anyone
predicting the Nats to have less than a mid-90s win total. The Nats are a very
good team and could once again end up with the best record in baseball. The
Nats are such a good team on paper it caused Jayson Werth to ask if a team this
complete has ever existed before. The Nats have a very complete roster from top
to bottom. If we look at my average WAR projection and take out Strasburg and
Harper (the Nats top projected pitcher and hitter) all of a sudden the Nats are
projected to win 87 games. That might look bad at first, but the 2012 Cardinals
made the post-season with 88 wins in 2012. 87 wins still makes the Nationals a
contender. How many teams can have their best hitter and best pitcher simply wiped
out of existence and still be projected to be a contender? I would guess not
many.

The Nats are deep and that makes them
dangerous. In fact, look at the Nats projected line-up with Bill James
projected OPS vs. the 2012 average OPS for line-up spot:

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Nats Projected Lineup Projected OPS 2012 MLB Average OPS for Lineup Position

.

Denard Span 0.729 0.715

.

Jayson Werth 0.807 0.714

.

Bryce Harper 0.823 0.813

.

Ryan Zimmerman 0.845 0.812

.

Adam LaRoche 0.805 0.758

.

Ian Desmond 0.771 0.742

.

Danny Espinosa 0.761 0.749

.

Wilson Ramos 0.750 0.675

It is insanity. The Nats don’t have a single player projected to have over a
.900 OPS, but every single line-up spot is occupied by an above average hitter
for that spot in the line-up. Dealing with this isn’t going to be easy for
pitchers. The Nats line-up may lack the thunder of a Joey Votto or a Ryan
Bruan, but it is made up be length. The Nats line-up is long, and it does not
provide a pitcher with an opportunity to rest. Opposing pitchers have to be
careful with every single batter in this order. The Nats 1-5 is full of patient
hitters who will let a pitcher walk them if they want to, and the bottom of the
order is full of above average power for those line-up spots not afraid to
swing away and cause some damage. 

The line-up isn’t the only deep part of
the Nationals. The rotation and bullpen are both insanely deep. The pitcher
with the fifth best K/BB ratio of all time in Dan Haren is scheduled to start
the season as the Nats fifth starter. The Nats 2011 closer is their set-up man
and the Nats 2012 closer is their seventh inning guy and if they need someone
for the sixth, it’s a pitcher that had 2.34 ERA in 88 1/3 innings in his first
year of relieving. The Nationals are complete, they are dangerous and
the predictions and projections aren’t going to stop. As of this moment in time
they are the World Series favorites, and at least in their minds anything less
would be uncivilized.

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One comment

  1. I love the ambition that comes with a WS or Bust proclamation, but it’s misleading to add in Bust, who isn’t contracted for ’14? Haren….yea, this team is built to win, but it’s only year 1 of their "window", 2012 was supposed to be the last buildup year and they won 98 games. They could easily manage to win 380 games over the next for year. That is a Dynasty number.

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