“Alluhring Strategy” Team Previews: 2016 Washington Nationals
Last year must have left a bitter last in the mouth of most Nationals’ fans as they saw the New York Mets surpass them and win the division. After finishing in first place in two of the previous three seasons, the Nats had become accustom to playing in October. Last year, the limped to the finish line with a 83-79 record and 9 games behind the Mets. This is particularly disheartening since the rest of the division was so bad the 3rd place Marlins were 10 games below a .500 winning percentage.
2016 is a new season with some new faces and, I believe, new reason for optimism for the Nationals. There are quite a few players “werth” discussing here that will impact both the Washington Professional Baseball Team AND your fantasy rosters.
Notable Off-Season Additions:
- Daniel Murphy (Signed as FA)
- Ben Revere (Acquired from TOR)
- Trevor Gott (Acquired from LAA)
- Shawn Kelley (Signed as FA)
- Yusmeiro Petit (Signed as FA)
- Oliver Perez (Signed as FA)
- Stephen Drew (Signed as FA)
Notable Off-Season Subtractions:
- Ian Desmond (Signed with TEX)
- Denard Span (Signed with SF)
- Doug Fister (Signed with HOU)
- Jordan Zimmerman (Signed with DET)
- Yunel Escobar (Traded to LAA)
- Drew Storen (Traded to TOR)
Usually when you lose talent of the caliber that Washington did this off-season, your season outlook is probably bleak. However, GM Mike Rizzo has done a great job filling the team needs. The names might not be as “sexy” but they may actually be a better fit.
Gone is two-fifths of the rotation (Zimmerman and Fister) and there was not any significant starting pitchers signed to fill that spots. Look for internal replacements, more on this later in the article.
Gone is a back-of-the-bullpen arm (Storen), but replaced with a slew of less-heralded relief pitchers. Replacing Storen in the 8th inning is veteran strikeout artist, Shawn Kelley. He is coming off an excellent season in San Diego where he had career best ERA (2.45), WHIP (1.091) and FIP (2.57). He could be a very valuable piece in fantasy leagues that count holds and/or require a deep bullpen. Rizzo wanted to continue to bolster the bullpen so he traded Yunel Escobar to the Angels for RP Trevor Gott. He will probably break camp as the 6th or 7th inning guy, but has the makeup of a closer. He has a 96+ MPH fastball that resulted in over a K per INN during his minor league career. He did rely on his fastball nearly 85% of the time so if he can develop his curve ball to at least an above average pitch, he could be nasty in the late innings in that not-so-distant future. Petit and Perez are depth guys that will be more valuable to the Nats than the will be to any fantasy owner. Despite the loss of Storen, the bullpen might be deeper overall than last year with Gott being the future closer once Papelbon enters free agency next season.
Gone is Escobar but the edition of Daniel Murphy allows Rendon to move back to 3B and creates a stronger lineup. Murphy took advantage of his incredible hot streak in the 2015 playoffs with the Mets and should fit in nicely in this lineup regardless of where he bats.
Gone is Denard Span but so were his stolen bases. Although his plate discipline was still excellent and he found a way to reach base. his speed has deteriorated likely due to his hip surgery. A lead-
off hitter that doesn’t steal many bases and has slowed down likely won’t score the runs that would be expected of him. Washington had no issues letting him “walk” this off-season and made the move to secure a traditional lead-off hitter that in his prime. They shipped out Drew Storen to Toronto for Ben Revere. He had a fantastic season for his fantasy owners in 2015 despite a decrease of stolen bases. 31 is still pretty good, but I could easily see him get back over 40 at the top of this lineup. He doesn’t get on base the way you would want a lead-off guy, however, he does NOT stikeout (career 9.4% K rate) and he had a career high 84 runs scored which includes part of the year in Philadelphia. He should get close to or exceed 100 runs and hit near .300. He is a solid target and could be huge in roto and/or category leagues.
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
- Ben Revere (L) – CF
- Anthony Rendon (R) – 3B
- Bryce Harper (L) – RF
- Ryan Zimmerman (R) – 1B
- Daniel Murphy (L) – 2B
- Jayson Werth (R) – LF
- Wilson Ramos (R) – C
- Danny Espinosa (S) – SS
Projected Opening Day Bench:
- Jose Lobaton (S) – C
- Tyler Moore (R) – OF/1B
- Clint Robinson (L) – OF/1B
- Stephen Drew (L) – INF
- Michael Taylor (R) – OF
As mentioned earlier, Revere is a great table-setter at the top of the lineup despite his low walk rate (career 4.4%). He makes up for it in other areas and the “intangibles.” The Two-Hole should be an interesting choice for coach, Dusty Baker. He loves his veterans and the big money says, Jayson Werth gets the nod. Werth has excellent plate discipline and gets on base nearly 40% of the time (with the exception of last year). 2015 was pretty much a waste as he dealt with shoulder surgery before the season and promptly fractured his wrist in the spring. I do expect him to be quite a bit better than last year, but I don’t know that he regains the form he had in his early 30s. The Nats will be lucky to get 400 ABs from him this year and he will always be an injury risk. I love Anthony Rendon in the Two-Hole. He has a similar skill set to Werth and also had a tough 2015 dealing with injury. He is also 10 years younger and more upside at this point. I don’t know that he can match the impressive numbers he had in 2014 in a breakout season (21 HRs, 111 Runs, 83 RBIs and 17 SBs). If he can manage 550-600 plate appearances, there is no reason to think he can’t reach 15 HRs, 90 Runs, 75 RBIs and 10 SBs. His excellent plate discipline, career contact rate of 86.9% and potential production in every offensive category makes him a perfect fit to bat behind Revere and in front of Harper.
Speaking of Harper, I’m not convinced there is a better player in baseball right now. Here is a glimpse of where he ranked in amongst all MLB hitters in his unanimous MVP season in 2015…
- WAR 9.5 (1st)
- ISO .319 (1st)
- OBP .460 (1st)
- SLG .649 (1st)
- OPS 1.109 (1st)
- BB% 19.0% (2nd)
- RUNS 118 (2nd)
- AVG .330 (3rd)
- HR/FB 27.3% (3rd)
- HR 42 (3rd)
In conclusion, Harper ranks in the top 3 in all of MLB in 10 offensive categories. If Revere and Rendon hit in front of him all year, he should break 100 RBIs as well this year. You will be hard pressed to show me a fantasy league where he isn’t the #1 overall pick. He will make the guys of him better in the lineup because they will see more strikes. If he continues to mature, the sky is the limit and his free agent contract in 2019 could be $400-$500M in total guaranteed salary.
Speaking of clowns…
Projected clean-up hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, not only battled injuries, again, last season, but he was named in a report by Al Jazeera America that he received and used PEDs, namely Delta-2, a banned hormone supplement. Hopefully whatever he did, it helps him stay on the field this season and is healed from his plantar fasciitis and oblique strain. His BABIP was a career low last year (.289) and the bad luck could be somewhat explained away due to injury. Those particular injuries are painful and will alter your approach at the plate. 400-450 plate appearances could be productive, but I would expect Rizzo to instruct the coaching staff to give him more days off and rest him if he is banged up. The replacement platoon at 1B of Moore/Robinson could still reach 20 HRs in a combined 300 plate appearances and at least perform at replacement level. They are not worth much to the fantasy owner, but they can hold down the fort for the Nats to keep Zimmerman in the lineup the entire season.
Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton make a solid catching tandem in real life but should not be counted on as a starting catcher in most fantasy leagues. Ramos has flashed power in the past, but struggled last year again lefties (and he bats right) and he struck out 20% of his plate appearances in a healthy 2015. Draft/acquire him as backup catcher or if your league has 20+ teams. He will be more valuable in points leagues as he could have a negative effect on category leagues.
Finally, what do we make of former hot prospect, Michael Taylor? He is still only 25 and had a full Major League season under his belt. He keeps teasing us with tools (15+ HRs and 15+ SBs), but his flaws are be exploited to the point where the team felt they needed to bring in a legit lead-off hitter and move Taylor to a 4th outfielder role. He should still get his at bats as he can spell the starter at any of the three outfield positions. I would expect Werth to get hurt or get significant “rest” days and Revere could sit against tough lefties. He could get 400+ at bats and have value in points leagues, but buyer beware in category leagues. In 554 career plate appearances he has not shown the ability to get on base (6.9% BB rate, .282 OBP) and he struggles to make consistent contact (31.6% K rate, 68.6% contact rate, 16.0% swinging strike %). It will be difficult to make major adjustments in these areas while at the Major League level, especially when not playing every day. He is worth a roster spot in deeper leagues, but his prospect outlook is trending toward bust.
Projected Opening Day Rotation:
- Matt Scherzer (R)
- Stephen Strasburg (R)
- Gio Gonzalez (L)
- Joe Ross (R)
- Tanner Roark (R)
Projected Opening Day Bullpen:
- CL – Jonathan Papelbon (R)
- SU8 – Shawn Kelley (R)
- SU7 – Trevor Gott (R)
- MR – Felipe Rivero (L)
- MR – Blake Treinen (R)
- MR – Oliver Perez (L)
- LR – Yusmeiro Petit (R)
I covered my main thoughts on the bullpen in the review of off-season transactions. As long as the Nats are entrenched in a post-season run, I believe that they will keep Papelbon as the closer and leave the new guys (Kelley and Gott) as late inning set up guys. Despite the loss of Storen, the bullpen is solid enough for a playoff caliber team. Rivero and Treinen could have some value in deep leagues as they could rack up some Ks.
Typically when you lose pitchers of the caliber of Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister, you will struggle to replace that productivity. Rizzo chose not to address the rotation in free agency as he seems confident with his in-house options. This staff is blessed with two Ace pitchers that would be the SP1 on any fantasy roster.
Not sure its necessary to discuss #1 Starter, Matt Scherzer. If you follow baseball you know who he is and that he is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball and a Top 3 fantasy pitcher. The former Cy Young Winner will make sabermetricians drool with insane advanced and plate discipline metrics. Last year he led all of baseball with 4 complete games, 3 shutouts and incredible 8.12 K per BB. He will not hurt you in any categories and is the type of fantasy performer that leads teams to championships. If Rizzo’s moves (lack of moves in the rotation) pan out, he could be the Ace of a World Championship team as well.
No one is going to call the #2 Starter in this rotation a sleeper. Stephen Strasburg does not seem to be valued among fantasy owners as highly as he ought to be. He was bothered by
some injuries in 2015 and his Tommy John surgery, subsequent “innings limit controversy” and 1st round exit in the playoffs in 2012 has been overly played out. He’s just two years removed from a league leading 242 Ks in a career high 215 INN. Entering the Spring, Stras is healthy, has velocity to his fastball and still has two plus breaking pitches in his curve ball and change-up. In what some consider a “down” year, Stras managed 29.7% K rate and 5.0% BB rate. His curve ball will promote ground balls (46.2% GB rate in career) and complements his ability to get a stike-out at any time. I have noticed that in many leagues he is getting drafted lower than his skills and career suggests and he can be acquired at a discount. He has pegged as an “all-time great” coming into the league and just hasn’t had the time to prove his total value yet. If the current Strasburg owner in your league has a “what have you done for me lately” mentality, go get him. In one of my 30 team dynasty leagues, I was able to pick him up for Joe Ross and two relievers and Aaron Hill. He is on a contract year and will be looking for
the Yankees a team to give him Greinke/Kershaw money this off-season. I would draft him as a Top 5 pitcher this year and smile as he has a career year.
#3 Starter is Gio Gonzalez. It looks like he will be starting game 2 to start season, but it may be just to split up the two hard throwing righties. He is not in the same class as Scherzer and Strasburg. He is solid across the board in both real life and fantasy purposes. He throws his sinker now about 25% of the time to induce ground balls and his strikeout rate dropped just a tick (8.66 K/9) as his change-up is a better out pitch. He can still help fantasy teams but he just doesn’t give length anymore and will likely wear out the bullpen this season. Draft him as a back of the rotation type starter and enjoy the solid but unspectacular production.
After a terrific rookie season, the Nats are poised to hand Joe Ross the ball every fifth day. I have him pegged as the 4th starter due to a more secure rotation position than the #5 guy. There was some surprise to his success as a starter because he is basically a two pitch arsenal guy. That being said, both pitches (splitter and slider) showed plus in his 76.2 innings pitched last year. It is very odd to not offer a traditional four-seam fastball, but he has complete command over both pitches and he had under 30% of batted balls considered to be hard hit. He boasted a 22.0% K rate and 6.7% BB rate. Typically, pitchers with his skill set are career middle relievers. If he can develop his change-up into anything above average, he could go far as a starter. For now, he will only be as successful as his command. He’s a nice story and could do a decent job as a 4th or 5th Starter for the Nats this year, but if you can move him to an enamoured fantasy owner for established talent…DO IT!
To begin the year, the 5th starter is likely going to be Tanner Roark. He is a the definition of a innings-eater. His reliance on the sinker will keep the ball in play and give his defense a chance to keep the game close. He won’t strike out many and he isn’t likely to get back to his 2014 numbers (15 W, 2.85 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) as teams have figured him out. He will hold down the fort until the first Nationals prospect is ready to take over…
A.J. Cole will be the first starting pitching prospect to be called up in 2016. I bet you thought I was going somewhere else. Once a highly regarded prospect, Cole only managed around 90 MPH on his fastball during his three MLB appearances in 2015. He should start the year at AAA and hopefully get back up to the mid-90s and flash what we saw through AA. He is not draftable in most leagues (unless dynasty or deep roster leagues), but should be monitored as a nice streaming option WHEN he gets called up. First injury or struggles by Ross or Roark should open the door for his next chance.
Finally, there is this prospect that you might have heard about named, Lucas Giolito. He is
simply the #1 rated pitching prospect in ALL of baseball and I believe a “can’t miss” talent. He has dominated at every level he has pitched and is extremely polished with two plus pitches that should develop into future plus-plus pitches. His fastball and curve ball are off the “hook” and probably could pitch in the Majors right now. As expected, the Nats reassigned him to minor league camp on Wednesday (3/23) and were wise to do so. The truth is that he has never pitched above AA before and they have been careful with his innings increase after already having Tommy John surgery out of high school. He undoubtably will be on an innings count this season and Rizzo’s track record is follow it strictly. I don’t have a clue what that limit is but I have to imagine is that 150-160 innings range is reasonable guess. There is also the issue of service time. Giolito is the type of talent that they are not going to want to go through arbitration with four times. Could the plan be to manage his innings and what until August to bring him up so he could pitch in the post-season. Could you picture a post-season rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg and Giolito? If the trio of Ross, Roark and Cole can hold down the 4th and 5th rotation spot for the first four months, it is a possibility.
Spring Position Battles:
SS – Danny Espinosa vs. Stephen Drew vs. Trea Turner
This is the only real position battle this Spring but I think everyone knows how this plays out. They picked up Drew this off-season for depth but he is pretty terrible and can’t possibly play every day. Espi can play all over the infield, can grow a sweet mustache and is an adequate fill in at SS for the beginning of the season. He does not belong on any fantasy rosters that are 16 teams or less. He will probably win the job out of camp.
The #2 prospect in the organization, Trea Turner, had a legitimate shot to win the job out of
camp. He has plus speed, should get on base enough to slot in the # 2 hole and could be a top 10 SS this year if he were to win the job. The reality is: Dusty Baker prefers veteran players over rookies, he already has 45 days service time in 2015 so would need to remain in the minors through most of June to safely avoid Super Two status and frankly, he did not perform well during the Fall cup of coffee or this Spring. The smart move is to keep him in AAA to improve on his 27.3% K rate and work out a few kinks. As long as the Nats stay competitive all summer, no reason not to let him develop a little longer and save some future money. The last few months of the season should be very exciting in Washington with the infusion of young talent and a playoff race. Turner will be a hot asset in dynasty leagues and warrants an immediate waiver claim in early June to beat the crowd just before he’s called up.
I believe that Mike Rizzo will look like a genius when the smoke clears. Let the free agents go and bring in guys that fit the team needs. Fill the holes in-house and allow your star prospect to fully develop in the face of the outcry. Although my colleagues here at Major League Fantasy Sports seem to be on the Mets bandwagon this year, I’m going all in on the Nats. I like them to win 92 games this season and take down first place in the NL East. The Wild Card teams in the National League will all be around 90 wins so advancing will be difficult. The team can go as far as their rotation can take them in the playoffs.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 17th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #4 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss everything fantasy and MLB related in the N.L. East.
Come join a lively debate!
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday March 20th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will break down everything fantasy and MLB relevant for the N.L. Central division.
Our guests this week are Andy Macuga and Phil Weiss. Andy is the head baseball coach at Borrego Springs H.S. in Southern California, and a veteran owner in MLFS leagues. Phil Weiss’s resume includes working as a CPA with a large public accounting firm as well as private industry (Fortune 500), specializing in international corporate tax planning. Also earned the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Chief Financial Analyst for Independent RIA, responsible for individual securities held in client accounts.
Frequent guest on CNBC and Bloomberg television. Multiple appearances on Bloomberg radio, local and national radio.
Regularly quoted in Wall Street Journal, Reuters, New York Times, AP, thestreet.com, local news, Financial Times
Fantasy Baseball Experience:
Seasoned fantasy player since college and also a Major League Fantasy Baseball team owner for 3 years.