2010 Preview: Washington Nationals

  • Friday, April 2, 2010 8:49 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 59-103, 5th in NL East. Pythagorean record of 66-96.
Key Additions: 2B Adam Kennedy, C Ivan Rodriguez, SPs Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang, RP Matt Capps, OF Willy Taveras
Key Losses: OF Elijah Dukes, C Josh Bard, RPs Mike MacDougal and Ron Villone
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 74-88, 5th in NL East. CHONE – 74-88, 5th. CAIRO – 73.1-88.9, 5th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.82 FIP (25th in MLB), 4.79 for starters, 4.88 for relievers
2010 – The best news for this staff is that Next Big Thing Stephen Strasburg is coming at some point this season, probably sooner rather than later. Marquis and John Lannan are capable big league starters, but when they're you're top two pitchers, that's a problem. The Nats brought in Capps to try to hold down the closer job
Hitting: 2009 – .326 wOBA (17th in MLB)
2010 – A lineup core of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Nyjer Morgan isn't too shabby, but the rest of the lineup is uninspiring at best. 24-year-old rookie Ian Desmond will be the team's starting shortstop, and while he has good potential, he doesn't figure to make a Strasburg-esque impact this year.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -26.7 (24th in MLB)
2010 – Morgan and Zimmerman are two of the best defensive players in the majors at any position. Dunn is absolutely brutal in left field and not that much better at first base -- how he's not already in the American League DHing, I have no idea.

Reasons to Watch
1. Stephen Strasburg: This is obvious. Coming out of San Diego State, Strasburg was one of the most highly touted college pitchers ever. The Nationals took him No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft and were able to sign him. Most people view Strasburg as major league-ready right now, and his work in the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training (when he gave up two runs and struck out 12 in nine innings), did nothing to hurt that notion. Nonetheless, he will start the season at Double-A Harrisburg. Strasburg likely will be up in the majors by June, however, and all eyes are going to be on him. There will be tremendous expectations, but it doesn't appear like he's the type of guy who will be bothered by that.
2. Ian Desmond: Washington's young shortstop impressed late last season, when he hit .280/.318/.561 in 89 plate appearances. That performance capped a great year for Desmond, who also put up career-best numbers at the plate in the minors before his call-up. He has a sterling defensive reputation as well, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Desmond struggle some at the plate in 2010. CHONE, for example, sees him posting a .324 wOBA. And if Desmond hits a rough spot, Christian Guzman is still around to steal at-bats. Nationals fans will be hoping Desmond gets off to a good start and gets the chance to adjust to the big leagues over a full season of at-bats.
3. Moving pieces: The Nats have finally started to turn the organization around in the past year or so, drafting promising guys like Strasburg and fellow 2009 first-rounder Drew Storen, while also bringing in some undervalued players like Morgan and Willingham via trade. But the Nats are still a long ways away from building a contending team and need all of the pieces they can get. The question is if GM Mike Rizzo will be willing and able to deal Willingham, Dunn and others this season in an effort to stockpile as many good young players as possible. Sure, the Nats might win fewer games in 2010, but they're going to need the extra wins in 2013 a lot more than they will now.

Paint By Numbers: Dunn is one consistent guy. Last season, Big Donkey hit 38 home runs, breaking a streak of four consecutive seasons in which he hit exactly 40. Still, Dunn has done the following six seasons in a row: come to the plate between 630 and 690 times, hit between 38 and 46 home runs, driven in between 92 and 106 runs, walked between 15.9 and 18.6% of the time, struck out between 30.9 and 34.3% of the time and posted an OBP between .365 and .398. Meanwhile, his total UZR the past two seasons combined is a mind-boggling -64.3. ... Lannan has pulled the trick of vastly out-performing his FIP two straight seasons. In both 2008 and 2009, Lannan managed an ERA in the high 3s, even as his FIP stood between 4.70 and 4.80. Last season, his K/BB ratio was second-worst among qualified pitchers, but he also had the 10th -highest ground ball to fly ball ratio.

Blog Jog: Capitol Punishment's Chris Needham reacts to the news of Desmond winning the starting SS job and looks at his minor league track record. ... Mark Zuckerman has Storen answer some questions posed by his readers. ... The Nats Blog's Sam Farber analyzes Christian Guzman joining Washington's right field platoon, while William Yoder brings the latest installment of the Bryce Harper Watch.

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25 Stars 25 And Under (Part I)

  • Monday, January 11, 2010 6:07 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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It’s a great time to be a baseball fan, possibly excluding those poor souls in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and a few other places. But as you will see, even those fans have reason for some excitement.

While the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs certainly has not passed on entirely, the game has been blessed with a fresh generation of stars that plays the game clean (so far as we know) and incredibly well.

In an effort to illustrate the stunning collection of young talent already at the Major League level, I will compose an entire 25-man roster of players who have at least 100 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched in the big leagues but were 25 or younger at the start of 2010. Since a player’s prime usually begins around 26, this gives us a look at guys who are likely to be on the upswing.

Today we’ll do the position players, and tomorrow we’ll move on to the pitchers. Feel free to let me know if I missed someone in the comments.

C – Brian McCann, ATL, 25 years old. It’s hard to believe McCann is still 25 (he turns 26 next month), but he made his Major League debut at 21 and was an All-Star at 22. McCann is no Joe Mauer, who is a little too old for this list, but he has an .853 career OPS and the most home runs of any MLB catcher since 2005.

C – Matt Wieters, BAL, 23. Wieters came up last season with tremendous hype, and while his performance wasn’t awe-inspiring, it was solid and encouraging for a 23-year-old catcher getting his first taste of the Majors. Even with his inexperience and position, he was about a league-average hitter.

1B – Prince Fielder, MIL, 25. Fielder isn’t the type of player (big and slow) who is likely to age well, but he sure is fun to watch right now. In a little more than four full seasons, the big man has 160 home runs, and last season he was third in the big leagues with a 1.014 OPS.

1B – Pablo Sandoval, SF, 23. Kung Fu Panda has played mostly third base thus far but is expected to move across the diamond this season after the Giants signed Mark DeRosa. And make no mistake – the guy can flat-out rake. In 717 career at-bats, he’s put up a line of .333/.381/.543 while playing half his games in a terrible hitters’ park.

2B – Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE, 24. This is cheating slightly, as Cabrera played mostly shortstop last season, but second base is the weakest position in this age group and Cabrera played there a lot in 2008. He had a breakout year with the bat in ’09, and while he was a bit lucky, the Bill James projection still has Cabrera OPSing a respectable .779 next season.

3B – Evan Longoria, TB, 24. According to Fangraphs, Longoria was the seventh most valuable player in baseball last season despite being in his second year. How? He’s a solid hitter with good patience and excellent power, and he plays a beautiful third base. Over the past two seasons, Longoria’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 33.4 is the second-best mark of any player at any position, behind Carl Crawford.

3B – Ryan Zimmerman, WAS, 25. Not a lot of people know about Zimmerman, who has the misfortune of playing for the woeful Nats, and that’s a shame. He isn’t quite Longoria, but he’s awfully close. Last season, he was second to Longoria in UZR at third while putting up a career-best .888 OPS.

SS – Troy Tulowitzki, COL, 25. Hanley Ramirez is slightly too old for this exercise, so Tulo gets the nod here. After a rough, injury-marred 2008, he bounced back in a big way last season. Although he didn’t play up to his capabilities defensively, he had a career year with the bat, producing of a line of .297/.377/.552, with 32 home runs.

SS – Elvis Andrus, TEX, 21. Erick Aybar would also be a solid choice, but Andrus is four years younger and already better defensively. He was third among MLB shortstops in UZR as a rookie last season, and while the bat wasn’t anything special, he has plenty of time to improve in that area.

OF – Matt Kemp, LAD, 25. The Bison made his big league debut in 2006 as an extremely raw package of skills and has developed in leaps and bounds since. He hits for average (.299 career mark), has learned to take an occasional walk, has prodigious power that still hasn’t fully materialized, and is shockingly fast for someone who weighs in around 230 pounds (69 steals the last two years). He’s still not a great center fielder because he takes some bad routes to fly balls, but there are few players in the whole league with a higher ceiling.

OF – Justin Upton, ARZ, 22. Upton was first called up to the Majors as a teenager in 2007 and quickly has become one of the best all-around players in the game. He hit .300 and slugged .532 last season, stole 20 bases and was fourth among MLB right fielders in UZR. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine him as this generation’s Ken Griffey, Jr.

OF – B.J. Upton, TB, 25. Justin’s older brother had an excellent year with the bat in 2007 and a solid one in 2008 but tailed off badly last year, putting up a .686 OPS. He is likely to rebound, however, and if he does he will be extremely valuable, as he already is one of the top few defensive center fielders in baseball.

OF – Andrew McCutchen, PIT, 23. The Pirates don’t have much, but at least they have their center fielder and leadoff man of the future (until they inevitably trade him, at least). McCutchen stormed onto the scene as a rookie with an .836 OPS, 12 home runs, 22 steals and average defense in center after getting called up in early June.

OF – Colby Rasmus, STL, 23. Adam Jones and Denard Span also were great options here, but Rasmus wins via music video tiebreaker. Rasmus is already a top-five defensive center fielder, so it’s just a matter of his bat developing after an unspectacular rookie season. More patience and a better performance against lefties would help, but Rasmus did show his power potential with 16 homers in 474 at-bats.

Here’s a potential starting lineup out of that group.
1. J. Upton, RF
2. M. Kemp, LF
3. E. Longoria, 3B
4. P. Fielder, 1B
5. P. Sandoval, DH
6. T. Tulowitzki, SS
7. B. McCann, C
8. B. Upton, CF
9. A. Cabrera, 2B