StrategyFebruary 10, 2012

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

By Chad Miller

The 2011 season saw the Washington Nationals make drastic improvements from a 69-win team in 2010 to a team that was 80-81 in 2011. Over the past three seasons the Nationals have increased their win total from 59 to 69 to 80 last year. As a matter of fact, the only thing that may have held them back from having their second .500 season in franchise history was a September rain-out against the Dodgers that was never made up, shorting them one of their scheduled 162 games.

The Nationals most certainly appear to be on the track to success, but if there is one thing that defines this team heading into the 2012, it is uncertainty. It seems that nearly every player on this team has a large question mark as the magic eight-ball speculates on their 2012 outcomes, but if it all comes together, the Nationals could turn some heads and possibly find themselves as a playoff contender.

In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2012 fantasy baseball drafts.

Offensive Starters

C Wilson Ramos.267.334.4454815520389 
1B Adam LaRoche.172.288.258153151151 
2B Danny Espinosa.236.323.41472216617573 
SS Ian Desmond.253.298.3586584925584 
3B Ryan Zimmerman.289.355.4835212493395 
LF Michael Morse.303.360.5507331952522 
CF Roger Bernadina.243.301.3624072717309 
RF Jayson Werth.232.330.38969205819561 

Unsettled: First Base. Currently Adam LaRoche is penciled in at first base. If the Nationals are going to take a step in the right direction, this needs to change, and change fast. At some point this season they will most likely call up uber-prospect Bryce Harper, which could change the face of the team and the makeup of the outfield, as he would take over in right field, Jayson Werth would move to left field and Michael Morse would assume a permanent role at first. Additionally on the Nationals bench is Steve Lombardozzi who, last I saw, was knocking in the game winning run of the 1987 World Series for the Twins, so it should be interesting to see how he fares this year.

The Nationals face a lot of uncertainty in their lineup and could have a lineup that changes drastically on a monthly or even weekly basis. Stud third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had an abdominal injury last year, which forced him to miss nearly 60 games, and is developing a reputation for being injury prone. Last offseason saw the Nationals offer an unexpectedly large contract to Jayson Werth, who then responded by having his worst season by far since his 2005 campaign. But the change that could catapult the Nationals into contention is the impact that Bryce Harper has if he makes his Major League debut this year.

Target: Ryan Zimmerman. The biggest knock, and maybe the only knock, on Zimmerman is that he is injury prone. But it is entirely possible that the label “injury prone” is an exaggeration, and that he has developed this reputation based on a couple unlucky seasons. Yes, in both 2008 and 2011 Zimmerman succumbed to injuries that forced him to miss over 50 games, but in the other four years of his career has has averaged 154.5 games played with 25.5 home runs and a .288 average. Additionally, his injury last season was an abdominal injury that kept him out of most of the first two months of the season, but he was fully recovered by mid-June and was productive thereafter. If Zimmerman’s draft position is brought down in your league by his perceived injury risk, draft him at value and steal a productive third baseman from the rest of your league.

The Rotation

Stephen Strasburg (R)1-11.50.7124224.0 
Gio Gonzalez (L)16-123.121.3219791202.0w/OAK
Jordan Zimmermann (R)8-113.181.1512431161.1 
John Lannan (L)10-133.701.4610676184.2 
Chen-Ming Wang (R)4-34.041.28251362.1 

Unsettled: Going in to spring training, Ross Detwiler promises to be every bit as mediocre as Chen-Ming Wang (I mean that in the best way possible). In 66 innings last year, Detwiler had a WHIP of 1.26, which was a hefty improvement on his career best of 1.59. Detwiler will only be 26 on Opening Day, so there is still room for improvement, which cannot be said for Wang. There is also the possibility that 21-year-old Alex Meyer could emerge from the minors this year to take the fifth slot. His combination of a 100 mile-per-hour fastball and slurve is certainly intriguing, but most likely his lack of control and tendency to over-throw will keep him in the minors for at least another year, if not more.

Target: Stephen Strasburg. As intriguing as Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez are here, the pitcher to target on the Nationals is Strasburg. It is said that when a player has Tommy John surgery the last aspect of his game to come back is his control. Strasburg burst back into the majors last year in three games with 24 strikeouts to just two walks, giving him a 12:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Based on that sample, I think it’s safe to say his control is back. Strasburg may be limited to around 160 innings, but it is very possible that in those innings he will give you more value than than any other pitcher will give you in 200-plus innings, barring the very elite. I think it’s safe to put Strasburg with the Cole Hamels-Jered Weaver-Matt Cain group, but don’t be surprised by something better.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Drew Storen (R)432.751.02742075.1 
Tyler Clippard (R)01.83.841042688.1 
Brad Lidge (R)11.401.50231319.1w/PHI

Chasing Saves:As the “closer of the future,” Drew Storen came into the 2011 season with the inside track on the closing job. After converting 43 of 48 save opportunities, he has pretty much solidified that position as his own. There is plenty of strength for the eighth inning as well. Right-hander Tyler Clippard had a dominant season last year with a miniscule 0.84 WHIP and a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If a lefty is needed the Nationals can send out Sean Burnett. To add to the bullpen, Brad Lidge was acquired in the offseason. If healthy, the addition of Lidge could strengthen one of the best bullpens in the league.

Final Thoughts

Will Jayson Werth return to form this year? Will Ryan Zimmerman remain healthy all year? Will Bryce Harper emerge as the impact player that he is foretold to be? Will Michael Morse build on his break-out 2011 season? Will Stephen Strasburg experience his first healthy season in Major League Baseball? Will Gio Gonzalez adapt will to his new surroundings? Will Jordan Zimmermann continue to develop in to an All-Star caliber player? The Nationals may have more questions with impact than any team in baseball, but if the answer to all of these questions is “Yes,” there is no reason why this team can’t win 88-plus games this season. It is hard to say how this team will fare this year, but one thing is for sure: the future is so bright, this club has gotta wear shades!

Check back tomorrow for what I assume will be a depressing outlook for the Cubs 2012 season!!

Chad Miller is an amateur Writer, amateur Fantasy Baseball Player, and a Professional at being amateur. You can find him posting nonsensical jibberish at the Cafe under the name lastingsgriller.
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