It is time for my annual assessment and predictions for the Nationals. After a pretty good set of predictions last year including predicting 80 wins for the team and being early on seeing that Michael Morse was going to have a very good season, I venture forward again hoping to be as good regarding the 2012 Nationals. I leave it to the expertise of others for quantitative analysis, which I have learned to appreciate since I discovered Federal Baseball about two years ago. Thanks guys and gals for your research and presentations using advanced statistical analysis. And thanks to Patrick for his leadership in providing one-stop shopping for an addicted Nats fan. Using my own less analytical style, but definitely aware of advanced statistics, here goes:
Prediction for the NL East:
All but the Mets have a decent shot for the playoffs and division title. The Phillies are being graded too high because some are not accounting for aging and complacency. Injuries and degradation of skills are more common as players' progress through their 30-something period. The Phillies have several key 30-somethings. Therefore, I believe that 3 or 4 teams will bunch near the top, and that 95 wins will take the division.
Predictions on player ‘surprise' of the year:
- H. Rod. I believe he will improve his control enough to be trusted in close games, especially on the second set of holders-stoppers that Davey desires to have available to go with the first set of Clippard-Storen.
- Lombo. Despite a poor offensive start to his major league career last September I believe he will be a significant factor in the Nats success. His AA/AAA stats. are impressive both offensively and defensively. He has good speed and attitude.
- Burnett in the bullpen. After some disastrous outings last season I cautiously put forward that Shaun will be trustworthy again.
A few other predictions:
- Stras. will win NL lowest ERA.
- Stras., Gio, and J. Zim. will all be in the top 15 for lowest ERA.
- Morse will meet or surpass last year's production.
Prediction on team performance assuming status quo offensively, but accounting for the new pitching additions:
The addition of Gio and Jackson, plus J. Zim. and Stras. nearly fully recovered from TJ surgery, should move the Nats. from 80 wins to about 88 wins. The pitching staff as a whole looks to be very good, possibly top five in the NL. 88 wins will probably leave them short of a playoff spot but wait.......
What will get them to the Promised Land this year-plausibly?
Just having R. Zim. at full strength should add a few more wins, possibly as many as 5. To get them clearly in the playoffs, and even threaten for the division title, I want to see two among the following occur:
- Acquire an outfielder with good all around skills, as has been discussed thoroughly by many and presumably being actively worked on by management. To get the right fit, including team control of such an individual for at least 4 years, is going to mean the Nats must give up something of value. I propose they offer up: Lannan, Detwiller, Desmond, Espinosa, and Clippard. Not all of them in the same deal, of course. Lannan and Detwiller are expendable for obvious reasons (i.e., too many starters for the 5 slots) in order to get a good deal done. Espy. has value, and would be tough to let go, but in the short run I think Lombo. can do OK at 2B and one of Desmond/Espy at SS. Rendon is in the wings, so this is why I would offer Espy. in the ‘right' deal. Clippard is very tough to give up but his value may never be higher than now and, if he goes but Det. stays, along with H. Rod. and Lidge, the hold position in the bullpen may be covered.
- Harper establishes himself in RF before mid-season AND hits the full season equivalent of 25 HRs and 70 RBIs to go with a .280 BA.
- The young guys of Ramos, Espy, Desmond, and Bernadino have a net improvement of 30 pts. for on-base pct., and strikeouts decrease by 20 percent.
- Werth has a stellar year meeting or surpassing his average stats. for his last three years in Philly.
- LaRoche surprises by playing a full season and hits 25 HRs, 75 RBIs, and .270 BA.
It is possible that if all the pieces come together as regards pitching and defense, the Nats could still place without much offensive change. But, I think that if two of the above five occur, to go with a stellar starting staff, the Nats will likely get to 92-95 wins. There is a hard to document non-linear effect when a lineup adds muscle to the existing core of two (in our case, Morse and Zimmerman). If the Nats add a bonifide lead off guy, and/or get real improvement from among Werth, LaRoche, and Harper then the whole will be worth more than the sum of the parts. I also want to add that when sports teams such as the Nationals are clearly on the verge of something good the improvement can be a quantum leap forward when a few final pieces are added, not just incremental improvement. I sense that the former is about to happen, but like many at this site I am a bit afraid to go out on the limb only to risk disappointment.
Nevertheless, I am going with 93 wins as my final number since at least two of the five items I list above should happen. It is going to be exciting, probably the most in my 55 years of watching baseball, including 1957 to 1970 and 2005 to present as a diehard Washington baseball fan.