⚾️⚾️ The Morning Briefing: Early Projections Look Worrisome for the Nationals
Here are the latest headlines and analyses around the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball for today, February 7.
Good Morning, Washington Nationals Fans,
Here are the latest headlines and analyses around the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball for today, February 7, 2024.
Welcome to the Morning Briefing. Haden here, let’s talk some baseball.
Leading this Morning’s Briefing: Early projections have the Nats losing 90
Despite the additions of outfielder Joey Gallo, reliever Dylan Floro, and third baseman Nick Senzel, the Nationals are projected to lose over 103 games, according to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system. In their 1,000 simulations, the Nationals never achieved a record above .500. FanGraphs has the Nationals finishing the season with a 66-96 record. Vegas has the Nats over/under line at 66.5.
Now I consider myself pretty optimistic about the Nationals. During the 2023 season, I would talk myself into the Nationals winning more games than they probably deserved on In the Clubhouse. But it is important to consult these outside sources to keep our opinions grounded. This team is not a Hyun Jin Ryu and Cody Bellinger away from being a playoff team. It may move the bell curve to the right on that win percentage axis, but this team still has glaring issues.
According to ZiPS, which is Dan Szymborski’s projection system and is one of the best public projection systems, the Nationals project to have two players accumulate at least two fWAR, CJ Abrams and MacKenzie Gore. Only the Oakland A’s have that few players projected to accumulate two fWAR. As an offense, the team is projected to accumulate just 10.4 fWAR. No other team has an offense projected to be as bad as the Nationals.
PECOTA is just as pessimistic, with the Nationals tied for the fewest runs scored and allowing more runs than every other team outside of the Rockies. And it’s easy to see how they got here.
The Nationals plan to give Patrick Corbin the ball every five days. The same Patrick Corbin who has allowed 346 runs over the past three seasons which is 18 more than the next closest player and 69 more than the third closest player (both of which have thrown more innings than Corbin). Trevor Williams had the third-highest ERA among pitchers to throw at least 140 innings. Josiah Gray took a monumental step forward in 2023, cementing his spot on the team for the foreseeable future, but he still walked the third-highest percentage of batters he faced among pitchers with as many innings.
The lineup is filled with players with question marks. Can CJ Abrams produce that second-half performance over a full season? Can Lane Thomas recreate that first-half magic that had us calling him an all-star? Where did Keibert Ruiz’s defense go? How much did Joey Meneses’s knee actually affect his production at the plate? Can Luis García stay focused over a full 162? Is Stone Garrett as good as he was last season or is that a fluke? There is not a single player in this lineup that I can confidently say will have a .800 OPS in 2024. If we are truly exiting a rebuild, we need three or four guys that you can confidently say that about.
There is also just a concerning lack of depth within the organization. If CJ Abrams goes down for an extended period with an injury, who can the Nationals count on to play shortstop every day? Certainly not the guy who posted a .627 OPS in Double-A last year. Do the Nationals count on Ildemaro Vargas to handle duties there? There is just absolutely zero depth within the organization. If any of the above questions are answered with a negative outcome, the Nationals have nobody to turn to who at least puts up the facade that they are at least trying to win games.
I believe in these young players, especially Gray, Abrams, Gore, Ruiz, and Thomas to take a step forward in 2024. If they do not, and simply play to their median outcome (which is what these projections are) then the Nationals’ rebuild is far from complete. The front office targeted these major league-ready players for a reason. But the downside of that comes with a farm that is still relatively barren when excluding the big three prospects.
Who can the Nationals turn to if James Wood, Dylan Crews, or Brady House are more mediocre than all-star? So much hinges on the Nationals outperforming expectations, which in year three of a rebuild is so incredibly risky, but hopefully, it works because baseball will be better for it.
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