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2017 Washington Nationals Team Outlook

Shawn Childs takes an in-depth look at Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals as we approach the 2017 MLB season!

Washington Nationals

The Nationals made the playoffs three times over the last five seasons while winning 95 games or more in each year. In each case, they lost in the division round of the playoffs. Their offense has improved in each of the last three years. Washington scored 60 more runs than 2015 (703), which was their highest total (763 runs – 4th in the NL) in franchise history including their years in Montreal. The finished 4th National League in HRs (203). Even with more runs scored, Bryce Harper had a down year. The Nationals have had a top pitching staff over the last five seasons. They allowed 23 fewer runs than 2015 (635) leading to a second-place finish in ERA (3.51) in the NL. Their bullpen ranked second as well in ERA (3.37) with 23 wins, 23 losses, and 46 saves.

In the offseason, Washington lost C Wilson Ramos, OF Ben Revere, and CL Mark Melancon to free agency. IF Stephen Drew was re-signed for infield depth. They traded for C Derek Norris with the Padres for SP Pedro Avila. SS Danny Espinosa was sent to the Angels for SP Kyle McGowin and RP Austin Adams. The Nationals signed OF Chris Heisey to compete for a backup outfield job.

The success of the starting rotation will hinge on the health of Stephen Strasburg. The bullpen could be an area of risk if Shawn Kelley isn’t worthy of handling the 9th inning. The lack of strength in pitching late in games will hurt Washington in the bright moments in October.

Their offense could be special in 2017. I expect a rebound from Bryce Harper plus the development of Trea Turner should lead to some excitement on the base paths.

The Nationals will be in the heat of the battle in the NL East, but they may need to add a couple of bullpen arms sometime during the summer to put them in position to compete for a World Series title.

1. SS Trea Turner

Between AAA and the majors in 2016, Trea hit .321 with 114 runs, 19 HRs, 73 RBI, and 58 SBs over 638 at bats. This equals an exciting skill set. His high CTBA (.432) in the majors with in line with his success in the minors in 2014 (.425) and 2015 (.409). Turner has added length to his hits (AVH – 1.657 in the majors in 2016) with each promotion over the last three years. His walk rate (4.3) had less value than his minor-league resume (9.2) with a K rate (18.2) that came in lower than his minor career (19.8). Trea hit the ball well against both RH (.348) and LH (.317) pitching while almost all of his power came vs. righties (12 HRs and 38 RBI over 244 at bats - .607 SLG). Over the last two months in the majors, he hit .348 with 46 runs, 13 HRs, 33 RBI, and 26 SBs over 247 at bats. In his three seasons in the minors, Turner hit .316 with 19 HRs, 111 RBI, and 77 SBs over 1064 at bats. Even with some regression in his game, Trea looks like a solid .300 hitter with the ability to score over 100 runs with about 15 HRs, 60 RBI, and the ability to steal 50+ bags. His short resume has pushed his draft value to the first round in 15 team leagues in the early draft season. Trea has an ADP of 11 as the 2nd second baseman drafted. This season he’ll play shortstop for the Nationals.

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2. 3B Anthony Rendon

Last season Rendon hit in multiple spots in the Nationals’ starting lineup. He has an above average walk rate (10.1) with improvement in his K rate (18.1). His CTBA (.340) has been in a tight range over the last three seasons with a bounce back in his AVH (.1667). After a slow start in April (.242 with no HRs and one RBI over 91 at bats), Anthony turned in three steady months (.267 with 13 HRs, 41 RBI, and 11 SBs over 281 at bats). His swing was in top form in August (.324 with three HRs and 20 RBI over 102 at bats). Over the last two months of the season, Rendon didn’t attempt a steal. He drove 23 runs in September with four HRs and fade in his batting average. His swing path changed leading to a sharp rise in his FB rate (43.8 – 33.3 in 2015) and a career low GB rate (35.7). His HR/FB rate (10.0) came in just above his career average (9.1). Anthony had almost all of his production against RH pitching (.268 with 19 HRs and 77 RBI over 462 at bats). The rise in fly balls does hurt some of his upside in batting average due to easier outs. If his bat delivers a bump in batting average, Rendon should be position to hit in a higher spot in the batting order. Possible .280 with a chance at 100 runs with 20+ HRs, 80+ RBI, and double digit steals.

3. OF Bryce Harper

Don’t let the huge drop in batting average for Harper fool you. His game had plenty of growth in 2016 despite regression across the board in the counting stats. His downtick was due to bum shoulder leading to a massive drop in his CTBA (.316 - .441 in 2015). Bryce had the lowest K rate (18.7) of his career with two straight seasons of improvement. He maintained an elite walk rate (17.2). His swing had value in batting average in every other month (April – .286, May – .200, June – .280, July – .176, August – .310, and September – .210). Harper had his best power month in April (nine HRs and 24 RBI over 77 at bats). His HR/FB rate (14.3) was well below 2015 (27.3). Bryce lost the rhythm of his swing path leading to fewer line drives (17.2) and more fly balls (42.4). It’s almost like he tried to hit more fly balls in his quest to raise his HR total. I like his improved value in his RBI rate (16). Harper is one of the best players in the game, and he should be treated that way on draft day. He’ll have speed in front of him in the batting order with stronger overall skill sets. I expect Harper to have the most RBI chances of his career. The growth in his approach points to a potential huge edge in batting average with a healthier shoulder. I’ll set the bar at the top shelf: .320 with 120+ runs, 40+ HRs, 120+ RBI, and 20+ steals, which is worthy of being the first pick overall. Bryce is a complete steal in the early draft season (ADP of 11).

4. 1B Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman was bust in 2016. He struggled to hit the ball hard (.288 CTBA) with weaker than a leadoff hitter RBI rate (10). His AVH (1.699) fell in line with his career resume. Ryan had his worst approach of his career at the plate (career high K rate – 22.3 and career low walk rate (6.2). After a down April (.219 with one HR and seven RBI over 73 at bats), Zimmerman appeared to be rounding into form in May (.262 with seven HRs and 17 RBI over 107 at bats). He landed on the DL in July with a rib injury and in August after being hit on the wrist by a pitch. Over the last four months of the season, Ryan was a losing play (.198 with six HRs and 22 RBI over 245 at bats). His swing path looked almost identical to 2015 with a slight fade in his HR/FB rate (13.2). He’s missed 215 games over the last three seasons. Long resume of success and his resume points to him being the cleanup hitter. I expect a rebound and his price point is way out of line (ADP of 393 in 15 team leagues). Solid CO option while being drafted as a reserve player. Possible .275 with 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI.

5. 2B Daniel Murphy

Murphy was in a zone last year. He had a huge jump in his CTBA (.388) resulting in a massive increase in his batting average (.347). Daniel was a great hitter with runners on base (22 percent RBI rate), but he only had 364 RBI chances. His rise in power was due to another step up in his AVH (1.717). He’s been one of the toughest players to strikeout over the last two seasons (7.1 K rate in 2014 and 9.8 in 2015). Murphy had the same walk rate (6.0) as his career average. Over 155 at bats vs. LH pitching, he only struck out 18 times with a .329 batting average, six HRs and 30 RBI. Dan owned righties as well (.354 with 19 HRs and 74 RBI over 376 at bats). He hit .397 over his first 194 at bats with nine HRs and 34 RBI. In July and August, Murphy hit .324 with 11 HRs and 45 RBI over 179 at bats. He battled a hamstring issue in July and an upper leg issue in September leading to a poor finish in production (no HRs and six RBI over 56 at bats despite hitting .393). Daniel had a career-high HR/FB rate (12.4 – 7.4 in his career). His swing path changed, which led to career high fly ball rate (41.9) and career low ground ball rate (36.3). His success will create plenty of buzz in 2017 with career best ADP (37) in 15 team leagues in the early draft season. Really torn as I don’t like buying players after career years especially with a huge jump in HRs and RBI. Whoever hits behind Harper is going to have plenty of RBI chances. Maybe .290 with 20 HRs and 80 RBI would be a reasonable floor.

6. OF Jayson Werth

Werth will be playing the last season of his seven-year $126 million contract. He failed to live to expectation while hitting 20 or more HRs in three seasons while never driving in more than 85 runs. His AVH (1.711) was about the same in the last two years while his CTBA (.332) has been below his success in 2012 (.370), 2013 (.407), and 2014 (.371). Jayson has strength in his walk rate (11.7) with a career average K rate (22.9). His swing worked well against lefties (.322 with nine HRs and 22 RBI over 121 at bats) while struggling against RH pitching (.220). Werth had his best power month in August (eight HRs and 16 RBI) and his highest average in June (.321). His HR/FB rate (12.9) was his second highest rate in his six years in Washington. With a healthy season and 550 at bats, Jayson has enough left in the tank to deliver a 25 HRs and 80 RBI with correction in his batting average. The change in the structure of the Nationals’ batting order points to a weaker opportunity in runs.

7. C Matt Wieters

Headed into 2017, Wieters missed 261 games over the last three seasons due to a TJ surgery in 2014 and a battle with a forearm issue. Coming off spring training in 2016, there was concern with his right elbow. Matt was able to start on opening day. The Orioles limited his at bats over the first four months of the season (56, 69, 72, and 60). He struggled in April (.214 with HR and eight RBI) and July (.117 with no HRs and two RBI). His best month was June (.264 with five HRs and 20 RBI) while finishing the year with two steady months (.253 with eight combined HRs and 27 RBI). Wieters came up short in batting average against both RH (.248) and LH (.231) pitching. Most of his HRs (14) came against righties. His K rate (18.3) was in line with his career average (18.8) with regression in his walk rate (6.9). Matt has a balanced swing path (20/41/39) while never developing a high HR/FB rate (12.7). His CTBA (.305) needs to be improved to offer more upside in his batting average. The days of 500+ at bats could be over especially if the Nationals keep Derek Norris. With 450+ at bats, 20+ HRs with 65+ RBI should be within reach. His approach is strong enough where a correction in batting average should be expected.

8. OF Adam Eaton

Eaton posted back-to-back seasons with 14 HRs with repeated success in his AVH (1.506). His CTBA (.349) fell just below his last two seasons. Adam improved his walk rate (8.9) for the third straight season. His K rate (16.3) fell in line with his career average (16.8). He had almost equal success against RH (.285) and LH (.284) batters with 13 of his 14 HRs coming against righties. From May through June, Eaton hit .263 with seven HRs, 31 RBI, and eight SBs over 312 at bats. His best month was September (.333 with three HRs, 13 RBI, and two SBs over 108 at bats). Adam continues to hit a high number of ground balls (53.7 percent) leading to a short FB rate (25.8) while repeating his HR/FB rate (11.0). Adam appeared to have more speed in the minors (108 SBs over 1316 at bats) with a much higher ceiling in batting average (.348). Nice player with a tweener skill set. Possible uptick in batting average with a 10/60/20 skill set. His high fly ball rate restricts more upside in power. Update: Washington has length in their starting lineup, which may lead to Eaton being bounced to the bottom of the order. There has been talk of Jason Werth batting second already. I set the batting order based on how I see this team developing in 2017.

BN: 1B Adam Lind

Lind had a sharp decline in his CTBA (.308) with a step back in his RBI rate (14) as well. He did have a career high AVH (1.802) allowing him to maintain his power. Adam lost his approach leading to a rise in his K rate (20.7) and decline in his walk rate (6.1). He struggled with both RH (.239) and LH (.240) pitching while hitting 19 of his 20 HRs off righties. After a short April (.234 with one HR and three RBI), Lind flashed upside in May (.282 with five HRs and 20 RBI). Unfortunately, he worked himself into a platoon role over the last four months of the season (.229 with 12 HRs and 35 RBI over 266 at bats). This season he’ll provide insurance for Ryan Zimmerman plus add power off the bench.

BN: C Derek Norris

Norris repeated his power (14 HRs) with value in speed (nine steals), but he lost his approach at the plate (30.4 percent K rate). His walk rate (7.9) came in about the league average. Derek struggled with both righties (.178) and lefties (.203). His only month of value came in June (.273 with five HRs, 16 RBI, and three SBs over 77 at bats). Over his other five-month, Norris hit .166 with nine HRs, 26 RBI, and six SBs over 338 at bats. His fly ball rate (43.0) rose over the last two seasons leading to a career low GB rate (35.1). Derek had his highest HR/FB rate (11.7) over the last four years. Fading skill set, but young enough to have a correction. His minor-league resume (80 HRs, 274 RBI, and 43 SBs over 1651 at bats) suggests he’s left plenty of stats on the table. Purely mental so a floor of .250 with 15 HRs, 50 RBI, and five SBs seems like a good starting point plus he has no real competition for at bats. Update: With Wieters added, Norris now has no Fantasy value unless he’s traded.

BN: OF Michael Taylor

Taylor was almost the same player in 2016 with the exception of fade in his RBI rate (9). He continues to strike out too much (32.5 percent) with regression in his walk rate (5.9). His lack of success over the first half of the season (.231 with six HRs, 12 RBI, and 10 SBs over 186 at bats) led to only 35 at bats after the All-Star break. Over seven years in the minors, Michael hit .259 with 52 HRs, 282 RBI, and 140 SBs over 2047 at bats. Free swinger who with a potential 20/30 skill set once he figures out how to make better contact. For now, Taylor will compete for the 4th outfield job.

Bench Options

C Jose Lobaton – Over seven season in the majors, Jose hit .226 with 17 HRs and 92 RBI over 944 at bats. Lobaton should be the favorite to the backup catcher for the Nationals in 2017.

1B Clint Robinson – This journeyman player didn’t get a real shot in the majors until age 30. Over the last two seasons with Nationals, Clint hit .257 with 15 HRs and 62 RBI over 518 at bats. He has a strength in his walk rate (9.8 in his career) with a better than league average K rate (15.8). Nice power off the bench with enough game to provide value to cover a short-term injury.

IF Stephen Drew – With an 11-year resume in the majors (.252 with 122 HRs, 507 RBI, and 41 SBs over 4308 at bats), Drew will add stability off the bench for the Nationals. Over his last two seasons, Stephen has 25 HRs and 65 RBI over 526 at bats.

OF Chris Heisey – Over seven years in the majors, Heisey hit .242 with 61 HRs, 173 RBI, and 25 SBs over 1520 at bats. He’ll provide RH power off the bench with limit chances.

1. SP Max Scherzer

From a distance as a non-Scherzer owner, it seemed like he didn’t have a special year. Over his 11 starts, Max had a 4.05 ERA with 90 Ks and 15 HRs over 73.1 innings (10 HRs allowed in May over 42.1 innings). He dominated in June and July (6-2 with a 1.67 ERA and 87 Ks over 75.1 innings). Scherzer finished the year with a 9-1 record with a 3.16 ERA and 97 Ks over 79.1 innings. His arm was electric against RH batters (.156) with an elite strikeout to walk ratio (11.86). He issued 42 of his 56 walks to lefties with a step back in success (.242 BAA). Max continues to pitch up in the strike zone leading to a rising fly ball rate (47.9 – career high) and fading GB rate (33.0 – career low). His approach is why he struggled with HRs early in the season. His AFB (95.2) was a career high while rising in the last two seasons. Batters struggled with every pitch (four-seam – .223, changeup – .188, slider – .144, and curveball - .214) except his cutter (.265). With 73 wins, a 2.94 ERA, and 1052 Ks over 891.2 innings, a Fantasy owner will have plenty of info to understand he’s one of the best pitchers in the game with impact value in categories. Washington will score more runs in 2017, which gives Scherzer an excellent chance of leading the league in wins with a league-leading ERA and a chance at 300+ Ks. Max did suffer a broken knuckle on his ring finger on his pitching hand in January. They expect him to be ready for spring training.

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2. SP Stephen Strasburg

For the second year in a row, Strasburg failed to pitch a full season. Over his first 17 starts, he was the best pitcher in Washington (14-1 with a 2.51 ERA and 138 Ks over 114.2 innings). Stephen did miss time in June due to a back injury. His arm has disaster downside in four of six starts in late July and in early August (26 runs and 48 base runners over 30.2 innings with 41 Ks). Strasburg was dealing with a right elbow injury that led to him making only one appearance over the last six weeks of the year. His injury didn’t require surgery and the Nationals expect him to be ready for spring training. Stephen had an elite K rate (11.2) and regression in his walk rate (2.7). He pitched very well vs. lefties (.200) with solid value against RH batters (.235). His AFB (95.9) was in line with his last two seasons with batters hitting .241 against his four-seamer. Strasburg threw a plus, plus changeup (.108 BAA) and an elite curveball (.214 BAA). He believes his slider (.261 BAA) led to his elbow injury. Great arm with Scherzer upside, but he has tons of injury risk. Fully capable of 20+ wins with a sub 3.00 ERA and 250 Ks with 220 innings pitched.

3. Gio Gonzalez

Over three seasons from 2010 to 2012, Gio had a 3.08 ERA with 52 wins, 29 losses, and 575 Ks over 602 innings. His arm has regressed in each of the last four years leading to a 43-38 record with a 3.81 ERA and 694 Ks over 707.1 innings. In 2016, he had his worst season in ERA (4.57) despite having his best walk rate (3.0) of his career. His K rate (8.7) came in at his career average. Gonzalez was league average vs. righties (.267) with a slight edge against LH batters (.241). He threw the ball well in April (1.42 ERA over 25.1 innings with 25 Ks). Over his next 12 starts, Gio offered no upside (6.10 ERA) due to fade in his command (3.4 walks per nine). He posted a low ERA (2.70) in July even with a high walk rate (3.9) and low K rate (5.4). Gonzalez went 4-0 in August with a 3.58 ERA before blowing up again in September (7.43 ERA). His AFB (92.1) was his lowest rate since 2008 (90.8). He threw his curveball (.201 BAA) as his best pitch while no other pitch offered upside. The difference between 2012 and 2016 was the hit rate against his four-seam fastball (2012 – .186 and 2016 – .285). His HR/FB rate (12.5) was his highest rate since 2009 (13.9). Overall, Gio pitched better than his final stats. It’s almost like he needs to reinvent himself by throwing more strikes and finding a pitch with more success. Double digit wins with a 3.75 ERA, 175 Ks, and WHIP risk.

4. SP Tanner Roark

For the second time in two seasons, Roark bailed out the Nationals’ pitching staff with an unexpected year. He almost matched his 2014 record (15-10) and ERA (2.85) with growth in his K rate (7.4). This was somewhat surprising considering that he walked more batters (3.1 per nine – career high). Tanner had an ERA under 3.00 in April (2.03), July (2.97), August (2.56), and September (2.60). Over his last 17 starts, he went 9-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 83 Ks in 109.1 innings. His arm had the most value against lefties despite issuing 44 of 73 walks to them over 351 at bats. His AFB (93.2) was a step down from 2015 (93.6) while offering more velocity than 2014 (92.0). He threw a slider (.204 BAA), changeup (.174 BAA), and four-seam fastball (.195 BAA) as his best three pitches. Over four years in the majors, Tanner has a 42-28 record with a 3.01 ERA. This is well above his minor-league resume (3.77 ERA). I can’t dismiss his two seasons of success, but his point on draft day with be much higher based on his 2016 season (ADP of 141 in 15 team leagues). With 200 innings pitched, maybe a 3.50 ERA with 150 Ks.

5. SP Joe Ross

Over the first two months of 2016, Ross looked like a nice find on draft day (5-4 with a 2.37 ERA and 46 Ks in 60 innings. He struggled over his next six starts (5.45 ERA) leading to a trip to the DL for more than two months with a bum right shoulder. Joe needs to improve against lefties (.290) while being on solid footing vs. RH batters (.225). His AFB (94.4) with above the league average. His only pitch that looked major ready was his slider (.185 BAA). Batters crushed his sinker (.366 BA and .538 SLG) and changeup (.326 BAA and .512 SLG). Over six years in the minors, Joe had a 3.63 ERA with 322 Ks over 389 innings. Joe was able to pitch by the end of the year, but he did struggle in the playoffs (four runs and five baserunners over 2.2 innings). Upside arm that may be overvalued on draft day. His arm and stuff should offer more upside than Roark, but Ross has a lot to prove at the major-league level, His walk rate (2.5) and K rate (8.0) give him a chance at a sub 3.50 ERA with 150 Ks if he’s able to pitch 175 innings.

6. SP A.J. Cole

Over seven seasons in the minors, Cole has a 3.63 ERA with 689 Ks over 730.2 innings. He’s repeated AAA over the last two years despite having success in 2014 (7-0 with a 3.43 ERA and 50 Ks over 63 innings) and 2015 (3.15 ERA with 76 Ks over 105.2 innings). In 2016, A.J. regressed at AAA (4.26 ERA), but he did get his chance to pitch in the majors. In his eight starts in the majors, Cole had a weaker walk rate (3.3) with issues with HRs (seven allowed over 38.1 innings). He did strike out more batters (9.2 per nine). His AFB (92.0) was below the league average while featuring a plus slider (.200 BAA), changeup (.200 BAA), and curveball (.111 BAA). Interesting arm if given an opportunity to start. With better command of his fastball in the strike zone, A.J. could post a playable ERA with backend strikeout ability.

7. SP Austin Voth

Voth is an older pitching prospect that’s moved relatively slow over the last two seasons despite pitching well. Over four year in the minors, Austin has a 2.84 ERA with 469 Ks over 487.1 innings. His walk rate (2.6) is solid with a K rate (8.7) that is an asset. His fastball sits in the low 90s with a changeup that grades above the league average. Voth also throws an improving slider. His command will be the key to his success at the next level. I expect him to pitch in Washington at some point in 2017. Not an impact arm plus Austin needs some seasoning in the majors.

CL Shawn Kelley

Kelley has improved his walk rate (1.7) in each of his last three season, which has led to a career high K rate (12.4). His stuff now looks closer worthy except nine HRs allowed over 58 innings. Last season Shawn converted seven of nine save chances when given the opportunity to pitch in the 9th. His AFB (93.3) was his best since his rookie season (93.8) in 2009. Batters struggled to hit his only two pitches (four-seam fastball – .178 BAA and slider – .205). Kelley is a fly ball pitcher (49.2) with a high HR/FB rate (13.8). His only bad month came in June (5.25 ERA), but he struck out 21 batters over 12 innings with two walks. His stuff was dominating against RH hitters (.176) with an excellent strikeout to walk ratio (10.80). Shawn did a nice job vs. lefties (.225) as well. In early February, it’s his job to lose. Everything looks in place to have success, but a couple of blown saves via the long ball could crush his confidence and opportunity.

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RP Blake Treinen

Over three seasons in the majors, Blake has a 2.91 ERA with 158 Ks over 185.1 innings. He’s struggled with his walk rate (4.2) in his whole career in the majors, which is why the Nationals moved him to the bullpen in 2014. In his five years in the minors, while pitching in 89 games with 53 starts, Treinen had a 3.57 ERA with 299 Ks over 350.1 innings. His walk rate (2.2) offered more upside in the minors with a flat K rate (7.7). He had almost equal success vs. RH (.225) and LH (.221) batters. Over the last four months of 2016, Blake had a 1.96 ERA with 42 Ks over 46 innings. His AFB (96.8) is elite. Batters had success against his sinker (.298 BAA) while his slider is a plus, plus pitch (.125 BAA). A possible option in the ninth, but Treinen needs to throw more strikes.

RP Koda Glover

It took Glover fewer than two seasons to reach the majors. Over 59 games in the minors, Koda had a 2.09 ERA with 104 Ks, and 13 saves over 86 innings. He showcased an elite walk rate (1.7) with a plus K rate (10.9). In his 19 appearances with Nationals, Glover went 2-0 with a 5.03 ERA and 16 Ks in 19.2 innings. After his first 12 games (13.2 innings), he had a 2.63 ERA with 13 Ks. Over the last three weeks of the season, Koda allowed seven runs and ten baserunners over six innings. After the season, it was discovered that he had a torn labrum in his hip. This was the reason for his fade late in the season. He didn’t have surgery to repair the issue so it may reemerge in 2017. His AFB (97.5) was electric, but batters hit .344 against it in the majors. His slider (.088 BAA) was almost unhittable. Future closer for Washington if his hip issue doesn’t hold him back this season. He needs better command of the fastball within the strike zone.

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