Are We Overrating the Nationals Again?

A year ago, pretty much everyone picked the Nationals to win the NL East. Why not? They’d won 98 games in 2012, and they’d done so without full seasons from Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, or Jayson Werth. They’d done so without a real center fielder, since Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina had started 64 games there while Harper was still in the minors or otherwise unavailable, a problem that newcomer Denard Span was intended to fix. They’d also won 98 without Rafael Soriano, a seemingly luxurious addition who had been added to a bullpen that was already solid, and without Dan Haren, who was a risk but had many years of excellent performance behind him and wasn’t being counted on to be more than the fourth starter.

No one wanted to say that the Nationals were going to top 100 wins, but plenty of us thought it. In a division with only one other serious contender, they seemed like a lock. They seemed like the safest bet in the game.

It didn’t work out that way, because it never does. The Nationals didn’t win 100 games, or anything close to it. Besieged by injuries to Harper, Werth, and Ross Detwiler, as well as an atrocious first half from Haren and big steps back from Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen, Washington was still a .500 team into late August. That they managed to even get to a final record of 86-76 was due to a furious 18-9 September and big contributions from a healthy Werth and a repaired Haren, but they didn’t come close to the playoffs and ended the year as one of 2013’s biggest disappointments.

A year later, we’re doing it again. The Nationals are routinely appearing on lists of “best winters” or “most improved,” largely due to the heist that added Doug Fister to what is now one of baseball’s most fearsome rotation foursomes without subtracting much in return. The moves to import lefty reliever Jerry Blevins and backup outfielder Nate McLouth weren’t quite so splashy, but each should add a small amount of value, and that great September run certainly didn’t hurt. Just yesterday, Buster Olney named the Nationals as his pick to win the NL East, and he’s not wrong; I’d probably do the same, because Fister is great, the East still only has one other good team, and I don’t fully trust an Atlanta lineup that didn’t replace Brian McCann and still has to depend on B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla.

Rank Team WAR
16 Pirates 36.9
17 Giants 36.6
18 Nationals 36.5
19 Mariners 36.5
20 Orioles 33.5

By all accounts, the 2014 Nationals are going to be the best team in the division. And yet, I can’t help but remember what happened last year and look at our Depth Charts, which have a decidedly less rosy outlook on Washington. The Nationals are seen as being essentially tied for 17th with the Giants, who lost 88 games last year and didn’t do much to improve this winter outside of Tim Hudson and Michael Morse. They’re seen as being equal to the Mariners, who lost 91 games and had to add Robinson Cano just to get to this point. They’re below the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rockies, who didn’t make the playoffs last year and probably aren’t going to be on many preseason predictions lists this year.

Obviously, in order to put stock into that, you have to believe in two things: Steamer projections and the playing time estimates entered by our depth chart team, comprised of FanGraphs authors. (I manage the NL West, so you know where to go if anything seems off to you.) Neither of those are infallible, though I think both do a pretty good job, so you’re free to put as much or as little faith into those projections as you like.

For my part, I’m not comfortable just pushing those numbers aside, so let’s look into this. Are we completely overrating the Nationals again? Or is it something else? Eyeballing the lineup projections, most seem about right, with maybe a few sticking points. Adam LaRoche at 1.1 WAR isn’t unfair as he heads into his age-34 season, not when he’s been worth less than a win in three of the last four years. (The Fan Scouting Report has him at 1.7 WAR at the moment, so you apparently don’t feel too differently.) Ryan Zimmerman may yet have another elite season in him, but for now he’s projected to essentially repeat 2013, and I think we all know at some point in the near future he’s no longer a third baseman.

Werth at 2.0 WAR definitely feels low, but then again, he’ll be 35 years old and he’s seemingly always fighting injuries, so part of that projection is the fact that he’s only pegged for 476 plate appearances right now, as well as that he was worth only three wins total in 2011-12. (What the projection systems can’t know, of course, is the change in his batting stance last summer that seemed to kick off his fantastic tear.) If anything is going to stand out there to Nationals fans, it’s going to be shortstop Ian Desmond, projected for 3.0 WAR after back-to-back seasons of 5.0 WAR. Steamer expects him to give back some of his value on offense — and he largely didn’t maintain his 2012 power in 2013 — as well as being less valuable on defense. I’m not going to put money on another five win season from Desmond, but if you feel that’s a little light, I wouldn’t argue all that strenuously with you about it.

When you flip over to the rotation, some of the risk begins to appear. The top four, with Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann joining Strasburg and Fister, is one of the top quartets in the game. Argue for the Dodgers, maybe, or the Tigers — less so now that Fister is gone, of course — or maybe the Cardinals, but this is a projected group that’s tough to beat:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Stephen Strasburg 186.0 9.9 2.8 0.7 .305 73.2 % 3.13 2.90 4.0
Gio Gonzalez 180.0 8.9 3.4 0.7 .304 71.1 % 3.68 3.37 2.9
Jordan Zimmermann 174.0 7.0 2.0 0.9 .305 70.3 % 3.77 3.54 2.5
Doug Fister 164.0 7.3 1.9 0.6 .310 70.8 % 3.32 3.09 3.1

…but then, that’s what we said last year too, and when Detwiler couldn’t answer the bell — he made just one start after June — the team’s lack of rotation depth was exposed. Ross Ohlendorf and rookies Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark actually pitched well in limited time, but so far 2014 looks like the exact same situation:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Tanner Roark 122.0 6.9 2.7 0.8 .306 69.7 % 3.93 3.68 1.5
Ross Detwiler 28.0 6.0 2.7 0.9 .306 68.1 % 4.33 4.00 0.2
Taylor Jordan 28.0 6.1 2.5 0.7 .307 68.2 % 4.06 3.74 0.3
Ross Ohlendorf 28.0 7.2 2.9 1.1 .299 73.5 % 3.91 4.13 0.2
Danny Rosenbaum 28.0 5.2 3.7 1.0 .302 66.7 % 4.99 4.65 0.0
Chris Young 21.0 5.7 3.0 1.5 .291 71.1 % 4.88 5.08 -0.1
Nate Karns 21.0 8.6 4.1 0.8 .301 70.6 % 4.08 3.87 0.2

Roark’s not a bad guy to have around — I assume I don’t need to tell you to ignore the 7-1 and 1.51 ERA in limited time last year, largely against lousy competition — but ideally, he’s someone who steps in when you need a replacement, not someone you’re counting on. Detwiler plans to compete to win his job back; he’s also been healthy enough to throw more than 75 innings exactly once in his career, and was one of just six pitchers last year to throw at least 70 frames and strike out fewer than five per nine. As for the rest? If Young or Rosenbaum is actually seeing signficant time, something has gone extremely wrong.

Maybe this is a landing spot for A.J. Burnett, if reports that he’ll pitch for a team that isn’t the Pirates (but presumably not far from his Baltimore home) are true. Maybe, as illustrated in Jeff Sullivan’s article earlier this week, perhaps the additional win or two or three that an Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez could add makes Washington the ever-present “mystery team” who finds more value in that small boost than other teams might. Yes, a draft pick would be lost, but clearly Nats GM Mike Rizzo hasn’t been averse to the surprise January move, as we saw last year when he grabbed Soriano out of seemingly nowhere, and Detwiler might be better off a second lefty in the pen than he’d ever be as a mediocre starter. (For the record, I wrote something very similar about the possibility of them going after Kyle Lohse last year, for nearly identical reasons. Nats fans were not pleased, to put it lightly. I wonder if that’d be the same reaction now.)

Back to the original topic, when we make division predictions again, I’m probably going to pick Washington. It’s hard not to, with the idea of Harper and Werth and adding Fister to that rotation, especially when the Mets, Marlins, and Phillies look like disasters and the Braves have issues of their own. With everything running at full speed, this could very well be the 100 win team we thought we’d see last year. But it’s hard to wash over how injury-prone their offensive stars seem to be (toss in Anthony Rendon‘s ankles to that conversation), or how boom-or-bust LaRoche is, or how little they have behind catcher Wilson Ramos, or how much of a question mark their rotation depth could be, and so that pick is going to get made with just a little more hesitation on my part. Adding another starter, even with how talented that rotation appears to be, would go a long way towards alleviating that.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


99 Responses to “Are We Overrating the Nationals Again?”

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  1. David says:

    Maybe. But it seems odd that you write about the Nationals without even a mention of Bryce Harper, apart from him being hurt in 2013. Steamer has him going backwards in every category (BA, OBP, SLG, wRC+, etc.) which is odd to say the least. Oliver projects a big step forward and while Nats’ Zips haven’t come out yet, Dan Szymborski said Zips projects another step forward as well. While Desmond may not put up another 5WAR season, as you said, 3WAR seems very low. Split the difference and call it 4. So if you increase their expected WAR by 2 (from Harper and Desmond), that moves them up to 12th, ahead of the Braves.

    One more person who sticks out as being low is Denard Span. It only has him at 1.9 WAR. He’s been a 3 win player in 4 of his 6 seasons, including the last two years. He’s been worth over 3.5 wins the last two years. If you add 1.1 wins for him to get him to 3, that puts the Nats’ around 10th.

    In saying this, it’s not like I’m saying a ton of things have to go right for these things to happen. These are all things I think are likely to happen, just based on track record, age, etc. They could catapult up even further if a guy like Werth stays healthy (1.9 is very low, even for 476PA), but as you said, it’s hard to count on his health.

    The Nats’ may have some issues, and they’re not a slam dunk by any means, but I do think you’re selling them a bit short here.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      I agree about Harper. He doesn’t even get mentioned in the same sentence anymore with the fangraphs love child Mike Trout. If Harper tears it up this year, the Nat’s win the WS.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Nor should he, since Trout is world-historically great for any player of any age and Harper is merely great for his age.

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        • David says:

          Well Harper is a great player for any age, but he’s only historically great for his age. Whereas Trout is historically great, period.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Yeah, fair. Harper’s obviously a great talent, but at this point it would be a little silly to say he is a talent as great as Trout. Right now, there are few players in baseball history whom you can definitely say had as much or more talent than Trout.

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        • cass says:

          It’s possible that Harper’s become a little overrated due to living in Trout’s shadow and not meeting expectations. It’s a little like what happened to Strasburg. Everyone expected them to basically win the Cy Young and MVP and when they turned in merely excellent performances, there was disappointment.

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        • cass says:

          Underrated, not overrated. Sorry.

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        • Anon21 says:

          I think that’s probably fair, cass. It was Harper’s misfortune to be linked to Trout in the minds of prospect mavens before they debuted and in the media narrative since then. Given what Trout has accomplished, it’s a comparison that can’t help but be unflattering. If you consider Harper on his own merits, he’s been amazing so far when healthy.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          No, Harper is world-historically great for a player his age.

          He’s just been hurt, and Mike Trout has been Mel Ott with steals and elite defense.

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        • GilaMonster says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          You have to remember that Harper is a year younger and his tools(power specifically) take longer to develop compare to Trout’s defense and speed(tools that translate immediately.

          The odds are against Harper having a 10 WAR season, but he could very well be a perennial 35+ Home Run hitter providing good defense and some speed. I think a Goldschmidt like season is reasonable to expect from him in 2014.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Exactly, GilaMonster. I think Harper’s going to be a .280-.300/.400-.430/.570-.600 guy when he’s a grown man, while Trout’s going to be a .300-.330/.400-.430/.550-.570 guy.

          Different hitters, but similar production. Mel Ott versus Mickey Mantle.

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      • nilbog44 says:

        I wonder why Fangraphs loves Trout? I doubt it’s because he has had the best start to a career in MLB history. That’s probably not it.

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    • bobby says:

      if you are going to cherry pick players projected WAR to increase, then you need to do the same for the teams to which you are comparing them to in the standings. otherwise its not an apples to apples comparison

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    • Mike Petriello says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      All fair points. But like I said, I’ll still be picking them as my NL East favorites. As for Harper, he’s unbelievably talented, I just worry about his health, especially that knee.

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Yeah, I think the real issue is that Steamer isn’t especially good at projecting stuff.

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  2. gabriel says:

    The Steamer depth charts does seem a little low on the Nationals, but much like the Yankees, the Nationals have some very impressive stars combined with some decidedly weak areas and poor depth.

    It would be wonderful if depth chart estimates could be made available with Zips and Fan Projections when those are compiled, to give us an idea of how different the expectations of different systems are.

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  3. Chris says:

    Why would you tell anyone to ignore data from Roark’s 2013 season, rather than to contextualize it?

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    • Mike Petriello says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I would never ask anyone to waste their time on win/loss record, especially when several of those came in relief.

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      • Chris says:

        Clearly, W/L record is useless. But to suggest that data accumulated in limited time, or against below-average competition, is useless?

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        • Mike Petriello says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          Well, that particular data, yes. I didn’t say ignore any sort of information of any type that we learned about him. But yes, ignore that 7-1.

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  4. Chris says:

    So, the point of that comment was that reliever W/L record isn’t predictive of future performance?

    Guess you learn something new every day.

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    • Mike Petriello says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      If you don’t think some people are just going to look at his record and think that makes him a good pitcher, you’re crazy. But you’re apparently going to complain about that line no matter what, so I’ll just leave this be.

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      • Chris says:

        I don’t think anyone who reads Fangraphs will look at that record and think he’s a good pitcher.

        And I’m pointing out that line because it’s asinine and anti-intellectual suggest that anyone should ignore data—things that actually happened!—rather than attempting to understand it.

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        • Mike Petriello says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          But I disagree with the “things that actually happened” part with Roark’s win/loss record. His team won those games. What does allowing 2 runs in 1.2 innings after Ohlendorf didn’t get through five (http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN201308210.shtml) tell us as far as being part of a win? Nothing.

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        • Chris says:

          Again—if your only point is that we should not consider the W/L record, I agree. And I imagine everyone here would…

          So, how would you contextualize a 1.51 ERA in 53.2 innings against below-average competition?

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        • jruby says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          Dude. You’d contextualize it by clicking on his name and checking out his player page. Chill.

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        • The Foils says:

          “So, how would you contextualize a 1.51 ERA in 53.2 innings against below-average competition?”

          I’d contextualize it as something to ignore. Better?

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      • JCCfromDC says:

        I don’t pay attention to W-L at all. That 0.913 WHIP, however, is pretty impressive.

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        • The Foils says:

          It’s really not, at all, and that’s why Mike was entirely right to include the statement he did.

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        • Jason B says:

          “It’s really not, at all”

          False.

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        • BenDen says:

          Yea sorry The Foils, but it does mean SOMETHING.

          If his 53 innings had come during scheduled starts at the beginning of the season, then we’d be comparing him with our “quarter season outlook”

          A 1.5 ERA, WHIP less than 1 in the first quarter of a season? I’d call it impressive, even if you can’t predict full-season success off it.

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  5. Anon21 says:

    “the Braves have issues of their own.”

    I get that this is not at all the point of the article, but I don’t think this holds up all that well. The Braves have “issues” compared to like the Red Sox and Tigers, but they are one of the best teams in baseball with a bunch of young players moving further into their primes. They are going to show up the forecasters again this year, and the Nationals will be scrapping for the wild card.

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    • Mike Petriello says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Certainly. And that was sort of the point, that we all figured WAS > ATL last year and it didn’t turn out that way, and that it’s not all that difficult to see the exact same thing happening again.

      Still: no replacement for McCann (I don’t buy Gattis as an every day catcher) and the huge potential for awful with Uggla and BJ Upton terrify me with that team.

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      • Anon21 says:

        “I don’t buy Gattis as an every day catcher”

        I was probably as big a Gattis skeptic as anyone for most of the first half of last season, but he’s earned a reprieve from my skepticism. His framing appears to be above-average, his receiving skills improved over the course of the season, and he managed to maintain an above-average offensive line despite few on-base skills to speak of. I don’t expect him to replace McCann’s production, but everyday catching with about league-average production seems like a reasonable projection to me.

        “the huge potential for awful with Uggla and BJ Upton”

        Upton is… I dunno, the best you can say is that he can’t be as bad as last year because he won’t get that many chances. Uggla’s in serious danger of losing his job to Tommy La Stella, whom the projections like quite a bit. What gives me confidence here is that the Braves endured essentially the worst-case scenario combination of playing time and performance from these two in 2013, and still won their division going away.

        The Nationals have improved, but it’s quite possible we haven’t seen the best this young Braves core can do. That should scare Mike Rizzo.

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        • David says:

          “The Nationals have improved, but it’s quite possible we haven’t seen the best this young Braves core can do. That should scare Mike Rizzo.”

          The same could be said of the Nationals, ya know. Nobody thinks we’ve seen the best of Bryce Harper. Anthony Rendon has the ability to be an impact player. The rotation is young and as good as anyone’s. I’m not going to predict the Nats to win the division, but I will say you boldly proclaiming that Rizzo should be “scared” is downright silly. It’s gonna be a dogfight til the end.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Sure, but the Nationals have fewer full-time players moving into their primes (Harper, Rendon, and Strasburg vs. Heyward, Freeman, Simmons, Teheran, Wood, and potentially La Stella) and probably have relatively more of their projected WAR tied up in pitchers, those breakable toys. I just see more upside for the Braves, which is not a good thing for a Nationals team that didn’t come close to winning their division last year.

          The frame of reference for me is that sure, the Nationals have improved while the Braves have arguably slipped a bit and are counting on bigger contributions from returning players, but… the Nationals had to improve if they wanted to be a plausible contender, and the Braves have good reason to expect better contributions from their full-time players.

          Anyway, we’ll see what’s silly. Surely the notion at this time last year that the Braves would win the division in a walk would have seemed silly, but it’s exactly what happened. I don’t mind going for the bold prediction; I think the Braves are the better team and will quickly show it.

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        • cass says:

          This seems kind of silly. The Nats and Braves will likely be good teams with flaws. The error bars are way, way bigger than the difference in talent between the team, so we could either see a dogfight till the end or we could see one of the teams pull away like the Braves did last year. Or something in between like in 2012.

          We won’t know until we know who gets injured, who booms, and who busts. Just cause they’re projected to be close doesn’t mean they will be cause the margin of error is really big.

          The safest prediction is saying that they’ll be 1-2 in the NL East since there’s no one else close.

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        • Jason B says:

          “The error bars are way, way bigger than the difference in talent between the team, so we could either see a dogfight till the end or we could see one of the teams pull away like the Braves did last year. Or something in between like in 2012.”

          “The safest prediction is saying that they’ll be 1-2 in the NL East since there’s no one else close.”

          ^^ Very well stated by Cass. Excellent summation.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          The issue is that last year was essentially the Nats’ worst case scenario:

          Espi spent 44 games trying to play through a torn rotator cuff before they brought up Rendon.

          Haren was replacement level in terms of run prevention.

          Lombardozzi, LaRoche, Tracy, Storen and Moore cratered.

          Harper, Werth, Detwiler and Ramos all missed significant time due to injury.

          This year, they’re replacing Haren with Fister, who is good and doesn’t have a shitload of red flags. Harper, Ramos and Werth should be healthier (at least in aggregate). Espi should be back to normal so, if LaRoche sucks again, they’ll be able to shift everyone to their future positions a year early.

          The Nats had a bunch of injuries and underperformed their talent level last year. They should have been expected to be much better this year just based on regression and improved health, even before you account for the fact that they actually increased their overall talent.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Not buying that Espinosa will be “back to normal” or that they have adequate depth if he isn’t.

          And maybe Harper, Werth, and Ramos can be expected to miss less time in the aggregate, but let’s also acknowledge that they had extremely good health from their top 3 starting pitchers (and Haren, who admittedly may have hurt them more by pitching than by staying on the shelf). So, assuming they had extremely bad health from their position players last year—and I’m not even sure that’s correct, because I think fans of disappointing teams tend to overestimate how bad their DL situation was relative to the league—they also benefited from good pitching health that they shouldn’t expect to repeat.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Ah, yes, I thought I remembered something like this. Far from suffering “a bunch of injuries” relative to the league, the Nationals were actually among the healthiest teams in 2013: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2013-disabled-list-team-data/

          And before you jump to the conclusion that the Nationals may have had fewer overall injuries, but they got hit where it hurt most (Harper, etc.), feast your eyes on this: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2013-disabled-list-team-data/#comment-4241250

          The short of it is: regression to the mean suggests the Nationals will be less healthy next year, not more. And that the Braves will be more healthy. Uh oh!

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          My problem is that he’s using Steamer, and Steamer isn’t especially good at projecting player performance.

          Also, having a lot of injured players isn’t the same thing as having a lot of players on the DL. Espinosa was never placed on the DL last year when he was playing through a broken wrist and a torn rotator cuff, and Espinosa was probably their most significant injury. Harper, too, was injured all season, even when he wasn’t on the DL.

          Replacing Haren with Fister alone should be good for a 4 win improvement, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that Stras actually underperformed expectations this year.

          Also, I’m not a Nats fan. It’s nice to know that Braves fans exist, though. I wasn’t certain, seeing as how I can get $30 tickets to their home opener.

          Seriously, why don’t you guys go to sporting events?

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        • Anon21 says:

          I don’t live in Atlanta, and I can’t take off work to go to Opening Day at the Ted. I’d love to be there, though. Why is it always on a weekday?

          As for the rest… I mean, Espinosa was terrible, so whether he was a “significant injury” in terms of hurting the Nationals by missing games is debatable. Your broader point is right, I think: the Nationals were remarkably incompetent at managing injuries last year, frequently holding guys out for days only to DL them later or letting them play through injuries that they should have been healing through rest. Whether that’s likely to improve in 2014 is an important question to ask in looking at whether the team, including its medical and management personnel, underperformed its true talent level.

          Even so, the gap between the Braves and Nationals in terms of DL days was very large, and I doubt you can get from that to “the Nats were less healthy” solely through your walking wounded theory. Again, I think what this reflects more than anything is that when a team expected to be great is instead mediocre, people look for explanations. You can almost always find things that went wrong with a mediocre team’s season; the question should be whether they went wrong to a degree that significantly explains the underperformance. I doubt that injuries are a good explanation for why the 2013 Nationals were unexpectedly sucky, given the data we have.

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        • cass says:

          The Braves certainly have been attending games at Nationals Park the last couple years. And they’re loud. I’ve noticed a more passionate streak in their recently, as famously exemplified by the throwing of bottles after the “infield” fly rule call at the WC game.

          I think the characterization of Braves fans as passive and uninterested isn’t really fair these days, even if it was toward the end of their long run of division titles.

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        • Anon21 says:

          My pet theory is that the Braves have one of the biggest fanbases in the country, but that not enough of them live in the Atlanta area to sell out the stadium. I think there are lots of Braves fans not just in the greater South, but all over the country. I’m biased because that’s been my experience (although I came by it living in Atlanta when I was younger, not on TBS like some faraway fans). But it does seem like they travel well—although that may just be a function of having a recognizable cheer (chant) that’s easy to pick up for TV.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I’m a Yanks and Eagles fan (it’s complicated) and I just moved to Atlanta from Boston. I really just can’t understand the idea of $30 tickets to Opening Day, or of $40 tickets to the Falcons’ home opener.

          Maybe it’s just the South? It doesn’t make sense to me.

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        • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

          Turner Field also holds about 50,000 people. They have to sell about 10,000 more tickets to sell out (they will), so they have to make ticket prices a little lower. Are you really complaining about getting a ticket for Opening Day for $30?

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      • Goat Fondler says:

        But Uggla and Upton can’t really get any worse than they were last year.

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        • Anon21 says:

          I think they probably can, but they won’t get as many chances from the Braves to do it. For that reason, I think it’s likely they can’t damage the Braves as much in 2014 as they did in 2013.

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  6. Mk says:

    “The Nationals are seen as being essentially tied for 17th…” The DH issue continues to confound me for all NL teams and seems to inflate the WAR rankings for all AL teams.

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    • cass says:

      Yes. I think it’d be nice to have a place with separate rankings for the NL and AL. Currently it’s just at the MLB or division level.

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    • DowntownChico says:

      I can see how having a DH hit instead of a pitcher would increase the WAR attributable to offense in the AL.

      But that is one-third of the WAR equation.

      Conversely, are pitching and defensive WAR not inflated for NL for the same exact reasoning?

      Sidenote: The AL has had a better record in interleague play from 2004-Present. It could be that the AL has better teams.

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  7. TKDC says:

    It’s at least arguable that the Braves “replaced” what Brian McCann provided last year. Gattis’ defense is still a question mark, but it seem unlikely that his WAR was not severely diminished by spending half his time in the outfield, where not only is he dreadful, but he is judged offensively against other outfielders. A decent or even below average catcher who puts up a 110 wRC+ (which you’d think he might at least improve on a bit) is a league average player at least.

    As for BJ and Uggla, yeah, they suck, and Uggla is very unlikely to ever again not suck (I think there is hope for BJ), but they were on the team last year. And the entire rest of the team is young enough to not expect decline.

    Honestly, just like last year, I think these two teams are too close to really call one a favorite over the other, but I understand the desire to make such distinctions.

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      I mean, Gattis’ 2013 is almost entirely carried by a huge April and May. He had a .653 OPS from June to September (.293 wOBA in the second half). ZiPS expects him to repeat his .329 wOBA, and I’d say it’s much more likely that the league figured him out than that he should be expected to improve going into his sophomore season at the tender age of 27.

      There was a 6 run difference in both wRAA and RE24 last year, and that’s not getting into the fact that McCann is much better defensively.

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      • TKDC says:

        Steamer and Oliver (and the Fans) have him doing better.

        McCann had 2.7 WAR last year. Yes, he’s much better, but he only played 102 games. My point was that I think Gattis will provide a similar amount of production as McCann did last year, namely the 2.7 WAR.

        There also aren’t really many if any good comps for Gattis’ particular situation as an age 27 second-year player. Most guys who are 26 year-old rookies struggled at multiple levels in the minors. Gattis never did. Then he had a 110 wRC+ as a rookie (McCann – career 114). And if it’s Kosher to use arbitrary endpoints, he had a .780 OPS in Sept/Oct (and a good postseason!) so I guess he then figured out the league!!!

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          He was above average for a month against minor leaguers? Sign me up!

          I think Gattis will be a 95-105 wRC+ guy and be worth about 1.5 wins.

          The other issue is that Gattis was really, really good filling in for McCann at the beginning of the year. Their backup this year is almost certainly going to be much, much worse than that.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Gerald Laird carries a good stick for a backup catcher. His framing is pretty awful, but he’s a good catch-and-throw guy. He’s not going to be blasting a dozen homers in a few weeks like Gattis did, but conditional upon Gattis being league average I think catcher is a position of strength for the Braves relative to the Nationals, whose frontline guy has a very bad health track record.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I’d agree that they have a better overall situation at C than the Nats. I’m just saying that they have a much worse overall situation than they did last year.

          McCann+April/May Gattis>>Gattis+Laird

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        • TKDC says:

          Gattis was 2-21 with 1 walk in the five games he played with September call-ups starting for the other team. Even in September, most games are started by regular players. And the overloaded bullpens are not always a plus for offensive players.

          Oh, and of the 9 catchers in the last 3 years to get at least 400 PAs and have a wRC+ between 95 and 105, 8 of them had WAR of at least 1.9. six of them were definitely what one would call “league average or better” (WAR of at least 2.4)

          You need a better idea of what catcher offense is in MLB.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Yeah, Russell Martin, Chris Ianetta, Alex Avila and Sal Perez managed to accrue over 2 WAR with 95-105 wRC+. That doesn’t tell us anything about whether Gattis should be expected to do the same.

          All 4 are above-average to excellent defensive catchers. It would be too generous for my blood to call Gattis fringe-average behind the plate.

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      • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

        “I mean, Gattis’ 2013 is almost entirely carried by a huge April and May.”

        You mean when McCann was hurt and Gattis was the everyday catcher that you think he can’t be? You mean he had his best months when he was behind the plate everyday? You mean he was not as good when being used as a pinch hitter or spot starter in a position he’d never really played before? That just blows my mind.

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        • Anon21 says:

          “You mean he was not as good when being used as a pinch hitter or spot starter in a position he’d never really played before? That just blows my mind.”

          It kind of does blow my mind, since he went through a run where it seemed like literally every pinch-hit appearance resulted in a home run.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          How was he a “spot starter” in LF? He played just 7 more innings behind the plate than he did there.

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  8. Aaron (UK) says:

    Steamer does look a bit grim on the Nats position players. Using Steamer’s playing tine projections but Oliver’s WAR estimate (per 600) then total WAR jumps from 20.2 under Steamer to 26.5 under Oliver. 6 wins is a colossal difference.

    The same exercise for the Braves yields a much more modest change from 25.4 (Steamer) to 26.2 (Oliver).

    Does Steamer weight the more recent season more heavily than Oliver?

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      Further to the above, give the Nats another 5 wins and they’re essentially tied for 5th (and tied for best in the NL). This is much more in line with Vegas.

      Not that I’m saying that Vegas is necessarily correct, but given a combination of the talking-head consensus Mike refers to, the Oliver projections and the oddsmakers, I’d suggest it looks like Steamer is the one out on a limb here.

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  9. Anthony Rendon's Ankles says:

    Hey man! Not cool. We appeared in 134 games last year and didn’t once cause an issue.

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    • cass says:

      And in 2012?

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Make them switch you to third base already!

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      • cass says:

        Please, no. Zimmerman provides far more value as a third baseman if he can get his throws back under control. There was some progress made toward the end of the season. Hopefully he’ll stick there a few more years.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I mean, it’s been two years. I’ve given up on Zimm getting his throws back under control. Was there real progress at the end of last season?

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        • Pennsy says:

          Yeah, there really was improvement toward the end of 2013. But if there’s an issue with Zimmerman’s throwing it should become evident pretty early, and he has already acquiesced to playing some 1B this season.

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  10. Bryan says:

    I realize this is likely to be a marginal impact (and not something that projection systems are designed to capture), but any considerations for the Nationals being under new management this year? Williams has clearly indicated at least two things he plans to do that Davey Johnson didn’t favor: 1) extensive defensive shifting and positional adjustments, and 2) giving everyday players more regular off-days here and there. Johnson was critiqued (rightfully, in my mind) for riding some guys a bit too hard last year (Harper, Espinosa early in the year come to mind) and was basically anti-shift in his defensive philosophy.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the already very good rotation gets a run prevention boost from defensive shifting in 2014. Swapping a big-time fly ball pitcher in Haren for an elite ground ball pitcher in Fister should only increase the scale of this impact. I think now everyone on the projected 2014 starting staff is league average or better in terms of ground ball rate, as well.

    Hard to predict, but the managerial change does seem like it will have a few concrete impacts on the on-field product.

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    • cass says:

      Yeah, but Davey Johnson got the most out of the team in 2012. So it’s hard to say his methods were the problem.

      The one area there might be a difference is defensive positioning. The team has focused on groundball pitchers (and Strasburg made himself into one last year), so hopefully the new focus on that will add a win or two.

      I wouldn’t expect much change from the rest of it, though. Davey was a HoF caliber manager, after all, who had success with numerous teams over the years. He managed his team to the most wins in baseball as recently as 2012.

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  11. bvillebaron says:

    The Braves had as many, if not more, injuries than the Nationals last year, historically bad years from BJ Upton and Uggla and managed to win the division by 10 games. Fister is a good pitcher, but he isn’t the second coming of Bob Feller. No bigger McCann fan than me, but the fact is he missed the first month of the season last year and he has been slowly declining the last several years. Hudson is also one of my favorites, but at this stage of his career, does anyone think he is a better pitcher than a healthy Beachy? My guess is that the Braves are posting all of this Nationals are the best in the NL East again stuff on a bulletin board somewhere.

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    • David says:

      You’re right and the Braves had quality depth and the Nationals didn’t. Here are the OPS’ of the regular bench guys for the Nationals last year: .616, .545, .568, .607. By any metric, their bench was historically bad. To fix that, Mike Rizzo signed Nate McLouth (.729 OPS in 2013) who even in the worst season of his career had a higher OPS than any of those guys. If someone gets hurt, they have a fairly potent outfield platoon of McLouth and Scott Hairston. Danny Espinosa was atrocious in 2013, but posted OPS’ of .717, .737 and .723 in 2010-2012. He also provides excellent defense at SS and 2B, a value a guy like Steve Lombardozzi couldn’t provide. The Nationals are also still in the market for Jeff Baker.

      You’re underrating Fister, btw. He was 12th in WAR in 2013, ahead of guys like James Shields and David Price. Since 2011, he’s 9th in WAR–just behind David Price and ahead of Cole Hamels.

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      • Anon21 says:

        This honestly just drives home for me that the Nationals have not really fixed their depth issues… which is a theme Harper Gordek has been hitting, too. McLouth is okay, but he’s not far removed from a three-year run of offensive inadequacy, and I wouldn’t be too confident that you’ll see his 2013 self again. Espinosa was unfathomably bad last year, and still hasn’t gotten his shoulder fixed. If he’s their primary MI backup, they can’t really afford a prolonged DL stint for Desmond or Rendon.

        We still need to see how they end their offseason, but if they go into the season with this bench, they’re setting themselves up for a repeat of 2013 and praying for good health.

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        • David says:

          McLouth was a 2.5 win player in 2013. I don’t expect that, but even half of that is quite good for a bench player. He only had one really poor year, in 2010. In 2011, he still had a very solid .344 OBP despite only hitting .228. Both 2012 and 2012 were solid years for him. He’s a bench bat and a platoon guy. Against righties, McLouth has a .786 OPS and 110 wRC+. Against lefties, Hairston has a .815 OPS and a 116 wRC+. So if someone goes down in the outfield, the Nats are SIGNIFICANTLY better prepared to deal with that than they were in 2013, when they gave 50 starts in LF to a 2B (Lombardozzi) and a 1B (Tyler Moore), who had a combined OPS of about .600 and were atrocious defensivlely.

          Espinosa’s issue was never really the shoulder injury, btw. He was playing with a broken wrist that was misdiagnosed. As a utiity infielder, he doesn’t even have to hit all that much because he provides value defensively and offensively. I mean, he had back-to-back 3.5 win seasons in 2011 and 2012, so if he’s healthy, he’s more than qualified to be a backup MI.

          Up and down the team, the depth is better, I’m really not sure what you’re talking about. The only scare I have is at backup catcher behind Ramos, who has had trouble staying healthy. However, Rizzo has said that if Ramos has to miss a significant period of time, he’ll trade for a guy better suited to start. So we’ll see.

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        • stev o says:

          wouldnt it be ironic if mclouth posted the same .229/.335/.364 that he averaged over 2+ seasons with the braves. Good for a 93 wRC+ and 0.3 WAR.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Fair points on McLouth; as a backup, he should be adequate, and he pairs well with Hairston. So long as the Nationals don’t end up in a spot where they need both of them starting for an extended period of time, they should be all right in the outfield.

          I still think their infield is too shallow. My understanding is that team officials have thought for a year that Espinosa needs surgery to correct his shoulder issues, and that he’s refused to have it. His performance last year in both the majors and minors was so horrific that predicting a bounceback to 2011 and 2012 doesn’t make much sense to me. As it stands, I think the Nats would be foolish to rely on him as more than a defensive replacement. If he gets 200 or more PA for them next year, it’s going to be a bad situation.

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        • JCCfromDC says:

          Anon21, unless you have inside knowledge of the deliberations I have to challenge your assumption that the Nats wanted Espinosa to get shoulder surgery and he refused. The account that I’ve heard is that the team and the player agreed that surgery wasn’t required. This causes a lot of fans to scream, but I’ve seen two articles (one in the WaPo, one on a blog), each of which surveyed the available literature and concluded that there is no indication that surgery provides a better outcome than non-surgical treatment. Espinosa is saying that his struggles last year were due to the undiagnosed broken wrist. We’ll see.

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    • JCCfromDC says:

      does anyone think [Hudson] is a better pitcher than a healthy Beachy?

      Nope. But there are a lot of questions as to whether Beachy will make it all the way back from TJ surgery. We all know the success stories, but the success rate for TJ surgery is well short of 100% and Beachy’s continued elbow issues last year are concerning.

      My guess is that the Braves are posting all of this Nationals are the best in the NL East again stuff on a bulletin board somewhere.

      And the Nationals are probably posting all of the articles picking the Braves to win the East, burning for revenge, etc. Whatever. I can’t see either really coming into play as a factor, although that won’t stop people from reading it in as a factor after the season is over.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      A) McCann’s numbers last year were right in line with what he’s done every year since ’08.
      B) The only Braves position players who missed significant time were McCann and Heyward. The Nats lost Werth, Harper, Espinosa and Ramos for extended periods.
      C) The Braves had 5 pitchers start 20 games. The Nats had 4, and one of them was Dan Haren, who was worth 0.0 rWAR last year and has been replaced by Doug Fister, who is very good.

      The Nats should be much, much better this year. The question is whether the Braves will be able to maintain or improve, or whether they got worse.

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  12. Brian L says:

    You could make a strong case that on a per-PA basis, Harper got a lot better last year, and he’s still 21 with a lot of projectability left. Another meaningful step forward from him plus 150 games could be the KO move for the Nats in the division.

    Pitching-wise, I tend to think their rotation remains slightly overrated, atleast by word-of-mouth. People still think of Gio as his 2012 self rather than his 2010, 11 & 13 self (although admittedly the depth charts are not making that mistake). Strasburg dialing up 200+ innings this year could tilt the scales in the other direction though.

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  13. NatsFan73 says:

    Let’s not undersell the fact that LaRoche is in a walk year. Unlike last season if he stinks on ice again, the Nats can bury him if a trade option presents itself anywhere in the infield. Zim can move to 1st, and/or Rendon could play 3rd to make room as needed. I don’t know that Matt Williams has the same relationship with LaRoche that Johnson did … he might not be safe if he starts out poorly.

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    • Anon21 says:

      In that scenario, you’re still short a middle infielder. I don’t see how a potential LaRoche disaster becomes good for the Nationals just because his contract is up… if it came down to it, they could always release him, after all.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Not now that Espi is no longer playing through a broken wrist and a torn rotator cuff.

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        • Anon21 says:

          He never got the rotator cuff fixed. I guess you’re just down to hoping it got better on its own? Best of luck with that—I hear shoulder injuries are usually no big deal.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I’ve actually had a bad rotator cuff for years. Rehab works, if you stick with it, and Espinosa’s spent most of the last year rehabbing it.

          Also, the much bigger issue is that he was playing through a broken wrist all year. I’ve also broken a wrist before. Funnily enough, not being physically able to lift a bat with one hand does have a pretty massive effect on hitting ability.

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    • bobby says:

      LaRoche has typically been a 2nd half guy tho. For his career he has first half wRC+ of 100 and 2nd half 125. so that doesnt sound good for him

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  14. JCCfromDC says:

    Look, the Nats and Braves are almost certain to finish 1-2 in the NL East. With Harvey down the Mets are still a year off. If one of the top two falls the Phillies could possibly muster one last run to a wild card, but that’s their best case scenario. The Marlins are about a year or two off from one of their periodic annoying runs to the World Series – their pitching looks great but it’s hard to see how they score enough runs to make it matter.

    But anyone who confidently says which of the two teams will win the division in 2014 doesn’t understand baseball. Even in this thread Braves fans are rolling out all the “we won last year and should be better” arguments that sound a helluva lot like the same arguments the Nats fans were rolling out after 2012. Sure the Braves have upside, but you can’t ignore the questions. It’s hard to see Freeman or Johnson (especially Johnson) repeating their 2013 seasons. Which Teheran is the real one? The stud of 2013 or the disappointment of previous seasons? Hudson is gone, and just blithely assuming that Beachy (when Beachy is in danger of becoming a TJ guy who didn’t make it back) or Alex Wood will replace Hudson is hubris. The heck with replacing McCann behind the plate, I’m not sold that Gattis can replace McCann at the plate. Gattis’s production sure fell off after his first time around the league; he was dominant in April and May and mediocre to lousy the rest of the year. That’s a big flashing yellow light there, too.

    As a Nats fan I look around the field and I see a better rotation in DC (but a good one in Atlanta), a better bullpen in Atlanta (but a good one in DC). I look around the field and I see one position (1b) where going in the Braves have a clearly better player than the Nationals. I think the Nationals are clearly better at C, 2b and CF, although the margin isn’t as great. The rest are essentially coin tosses. Each of these teams has a best case scenario that ends in 100+ wins and a WS title, and a worse case scenario that scrambles to get above .500. If I had to bet on one team I’d bet on the Nationals by a whisker, but I wouldn’t be confident that I’d see the money again.

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  15. Dingbat says:

    Is there a reason why the Depth Charts page has no documentation whatsoever? There’s a link for “2013 Projected Standings” that clearly shows 2013 data once you click on it (since the values for Projected Rest of Season are all zero), but there’s nothing on the page itself that labels the year of the data, nor does it explain what the projections are based on. When you click on “Team WAR Totals (ROS),” all of a sudden you’re dealing with 2014 data (I think), though again there’s no information provided about the year of the data or what the numbers are based on. This site is supposed to be a source of rigorously QCed data and analysis, and for the most part that’s true, but the lack of basic documentation in these pages is really disappointing.

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  16. JCCfromDC says:

    The comparison of the Nats pitching staff going into 2013 vs. actual results and projected going into 2014 is misleading because it essentially says “the top four is awesome, but we said that last year – then when Detwiler got hurt the team struggled” and then going on to question the Nats’ 5th starter this year. For a true comparison you would have to assume that Fister flames out the way Haren did last year. Could it happen? Sure – hey, baseball. But suffice it to say that (based on being significantly younger and not having been tattoed the previous season) that Fister is far less of a risk than Haren was. So even if the Nationals struggle to find a fifth starter again this year (unlikely because their pitching depth is much greater this year, but possible) they still should be better simply because Fister>Haren.

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  17. Will H. says:

    Um, they have plenty of rotation depth, at least compared to a number of teams. I saw Taylor Jordan and that guy is for real. You could do worse than Det/Taylor as 5-6 then Roark/Solis/Ohlendorf/Rosenbaum taking you 10-deep. Also, you neglected to include the fourth big injury problem in their lineup last year: Ramos. Of course, he is a risk to be injured again, but if not their WAR will certainly jump. And true, their backups are weak, but if that is one’s most glaring issue (apart from your lineup’s injury tendencies), it’s a good state of affairs.

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  18. Compton says:

    I don’t care about 7-1, but 1.51 over 51 certainly piques interest, no? At least enough to investigate track record, pitch mix, batted ball distribution, and perhaps to go back and watch a start of his. I don’t just ignore that stuff, I look for reasons why it was and wasn’t a fluke.

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    • Pennsy says:

      Thank you! This aspect of baseball is sorely overlooked by so many of these articles. My guess is it’s easier to run spreadsheets than to gather and scout tape.

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