MLB Fantasy Breakdown: Washington Nationals

by Bill M on March 1, 2014 · 0 comments

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NOTE: The MLB team write-ups are based on my preparation for my fantasy season rather than trying to breakdown teams with a focus on actual MLB.  The main fantasy format I play is Scoresheet baseball, which is a simulation service, so skills are more important that counting numbers for me.  But, a good player is a good player so the info should translate well to any format.  I hope you enjoy!

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

TARGET: Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon (dynasty), Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister

MID-RANGE: Wilson Ramos, Rafael Soriano, 5th Starter

END GAME: Adam LaRoche, Denard Span, Other RP (Scoresheet only)

INFIELD

Ian Desmond has earned 10 WAR the last two seasons, which places him at the very top at the SS position in all of the majors.  Granted, injuries to Tulo and Hanley are the main reason, but he’d still be third.  I doubt many owners know that despite his back-to-back 20/20 season.  He doesn’t walk as much as you would like, but that can be overlooked with Desmond’s production.  Ryan Zimmerman’s reputation is a bit better than what I actually see.  He’s usually on the field, but he never seems to be 100%.  He also has chronic shoulder injury that has compromised his defense at 3B and on occasion his game power.  He’ll eventually move to 1B where he will be a mid-range or even end game pick.  Despite my being down on him, he is still definitely a target at 3B, good for 25 HR and around 800 OPS.  Just looking at 2013 stats, 2B Anthony Rendon is not a target.  He was pretty much replacement level.  However, he has the prospect pedigree as a pure hitter who should develop 20-25 HR power.  That would be a very valuable player at 2B, so he’s definitely a target in a dynasty or keeper league.  C Wilson Ramos has a career 769 OPS with better than league average power.  However, he has a 53% GB rate, which could compromise his power, and that’s why I have him as a mid-range pick.  Adam LaRoche is in the last year of his contract, and he’s typically been good in contract years.  Coming off one of the worst years of his career (735 OPS), he needs a bounce back.  Even at his best, he’s a borderline mid-range pick, so just leave him end game and hope for the best.

OUTFIELD

Bryce Harper is the Golden Child.  He left high school after his sophomore year, got his GED, and entered a community college in a wooden bat league and set records that will never be approached.  He was the number 1 pick in the draft, and made a quick march to the Majors at 19 years old.  He has prodigious raw power, rated an 8 by scouts.  The problem?  He always seems to have something nagging that’s preventing the breakout.  He’s shown above league average power, but not Elite power.  He’s supposed to have speed, but he hasn’t stolen 20 bases in a season yet.  Still, he has all the calling cards to be one of the best, and he’s only been able to legally drink a beer since October.  A bet against him getting there is likely to be a losing gamble.  Jayson Werth became best known as a very high priced bust in the first two years of his $126M contract.  Finally in 2013 he gave the Nats what they were looking for with a top 10 OF performance in 2013.  His resurgence was supported in every way possible, and he actually showed a better contact rate than any other full season in his career.  He is a very solid target for me.  Denard Span has CF defensive range, elite contact rate, and 20 SB speed.  The excellent on-base ability he showed his first couple of years in the league are a distant memory, however, and in fact he posted the worst walk-rate of his career last year at just 6%.  I can’t recommend him as anything more than an end game pick, which means you probably won’t get him.

ROTATION

The Nationals have the best top 4 starting pitchers in baseball, headlined by fireballer Stephen Strasburg.  He averages over 95 with the FB, has a curve with 15 MPH separation, and a workable change that have allowed him to strikeout 10.4 per 9 IP for his career.  He also has better than average control (2.5 BB/9), a rarity for a pitcher with this much power.  His mechanics (the dreaded inverted W and throwing across his body) still have some cautious, but this is an Elite package if you have the guts.  Jordan Zimmermann has excellent stuff (93 MPH FB) and tremendous command of his arsenal (2.0 BB/9 for his career) but he’s more interested in inducing weak contact that striking guys out.  He must agree with Bill “Spaceman” Lee that strikeouts are fascist.  He can have timing issues and when he does the results can be ugly.  Davey Johnson’s out now, so hopefully he won’t be allowed to give up 8 runs in his off starts this year.  Regardless, he’s one of my favorites and a strong target.  Gio Gonzalez has been one of the more dominant LHP over the last 4 years (3.15 ERA, 8.7 K/9).  He also experienced some disastrous starts in 2013 that made his ERA higher than it should have been.  Johnson’s ouster should help him as well.  His sketchy control (3.8 BB/9 in last 4 years) is the only reason I put him below Zimmermann, but they’re both phenomenal options in any format.  The Nats traded for control pitcher Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers, and the title of “best top 4 in baseball” came with him.  Fister has a deep arsenal that he uses to get the most out of his stuff.  He also had a 2.23 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.0 K/BB ratio, and struck out over a batter per inning in 5 starts and a relief appearance against the NL in interleague play in 2013.  He’s a solid target, but clearly a bit below the other three in this rotation.  The 5th starter spot is completely up in the air.  The Nationals have an embarrassment of riches with Ross Detwiler (LH version of Zimmermann), Taylor Jordan (good stuff, but probably could use a little more time in the minors), and Tanner Roark (93 MPH FB and 1.51 ERA in the Majors in 2013) competing for the job.  The pitcher that wins the job will be a worth a mid-range pick but you’ll probably get them in the end game.

BULLPEN

Rafael Soriano lost a mile per hour and over two K/9 in 2013.  While the ERA and save results still looked good, I’d be wary of Soriano.  If these are not signs of his demise he should be one of the best Rotisserie closers available because I think the Nats are going to win a lot of baseball games.  If I’m right, he won’t finish the season as the closer.  The Nats have a couple of internal candidates in Tyler Clippard saved 32 games in 2012.  He’s a big-time FB pitcher which is a little scary, but he’s been a great relief option since 2009.  Drew Storen was the heir apparent closer for Washington when he was drafted and he even saved 43 games in 2011 as a 23 year old.  His 2013 was a disaster as the BABIP went haywire along with this confidence, but the stuff is still there.  Craig Stammen has new life in the bullpen and is an excellent set-up option for Scoresheet.

Reach me on Twitter @wjm37 and on email at wjm37_jds@outlook.com

Sites used in research: Baseball Prospectus, Baseball HQ, Baseball America, MLB Depth Charts, BrooksBaseball, and Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs.

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