High times in the capital city. After winning just 59 games in 2009 and 2010, the Nats finished a respectable 80-81 last year. What's more, the lord and savior StrasJesus of Nazareth came back from Tommy John surgery throwing rocks, striking out 24 batters in 24 innings. Hitting wunderkind and #1 prospect Bryce Harper did about as well as a 18/19 year old prospect could do, slashing .297/.392/.501 in 109 minor league games. Going into the season, the Nats look to compete for the suddenly expansive playoffs.
Washington spent the offseason like Jim Bowden never left, acquiring top pitching talent Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, and reliever Brad Lidge when all was said and done. The price for Gonzalez was high, as the Nats parted with four of their top ten prospects in the deal. Lest you think that the Nats Tebow'd themselves, Leatherpants gave the deal his blessing, so the greater D.C. area was able to give a sigh of relief. Jackson was acquired in a much less dramatic fashion, signing a 1 year/ $11 MM deal late in the offseaon. While not as effective as he once was, Lidge is still a solid option at the back of the 'pen, and looks to bolster an already above average relief corps.
The 2011 Nationals were solidly middle of the road, finishing with a team 89 wRC+. Huge FA singing Jayson Werth had an awful year, finishing with a .232/.330/.389 line. Star third basemen Ryan Zimmerman missed over 50 games, and posted career lows in hitting. There were some bright spots, however, as both rookie Danny Espinosa and first basemen Mike Morse had very solid years.
C: Wilson Ramos
2012 ZIPS projected line (BA/OBP/SLG): .266/.338/.453
After a scary offseason kidnapping incident in Venezuela, Ramos looks to build on his very solid rookie year. ZIPS projects him to be one of the best offensive catchers in the NL, and I agree. Ramos will be a force in the NL East for years to come.
1B: Adam LaRoche
2012 ZIPS projected line: .236/.313/.415
LaRoche missed most of the 2011 season due to injury, and he wasn't lighting up the world when he played (.177/.288/.258 in 43 games.) He won't produce those numbers healthy, but he still figures to be several WBV (Wins Below Votto.)
2B: Danny Espinosa
2012 ZIPS projected line: .229/.309/.400
Espinosa had a great rookie year, finishing with 2.5 WAR, and 6th in the ROY balloting. ZIPS has him taking a step back this year, but he still figures to be a much better option than Mark DeRosa, who had a sub-Janish performance last year.
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
2012 ZIPS projected line: .283/.354/.476
After being in the conversation of best third basemen in baseball with Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre, Zimmerman stumbled last year, posting a career low in slugging percentage, and missing a third of the season with injuries. He looks to bounce back nicely, and continue killing the Reds (career .304/.374/.528 line)
SS: Ian Desmond
2012 ZIPS projected line: .256/.304/.378
Along with center, this appears to be the real area of need for the Nats. Desmond's projected to be soundly below average, even for a SS. Espinosa can play here in a pinch, and Washington might make a move to bolster this position in season.
LF: Mike Morse
2012 ZIPS projected line: .273/.331/.475
You know, it seems like we could have gotten this guy last offseason, when we were so desperate for a left fielder. Why didn't any of you mention him? Anyway, Morse was the hitting star for the Nats last year, posting a .910 OPS over the season. He's projected to take a small step back this year, but he should still be one of the Nats' best hitters.
CF: Roger Bernadina
2012 ZIPS projected line: .240/.302/.374
Oof. Yeah, this is the other position for Washington that's in need of some improvement. There's no question that center will belong to Harper once he gets called up, but that may not be until late in the season. Either way, center has been the subject of trade talks among Washington fans, along with John Lannan. Look for it to change of the course of 162 games.
RF: Jayson Werth
2012 ZIPS projected line: .245.342/418
Although it was a disastrous first season for Werth, not all signs were negative. He walked at about the same rate as his career numbers, and his BABIP was abnormally low, a full 40 points lower than his career rate. ZIPS is a bit more pessimistic than most projections, which have him at about a .350 wOBA. If he posted that number, it would begin to ease the pain of his contract.
As always, not much to say about the bench. DeRosa, who's 56 years old, had an awful year last season, and probably doesn't have much left in the tank. Flores is a fine backup catcher, but Ramos is sure to get the majority of the playing time. Lombardozzi is the interesting one in the group, with the potential to get significant playing time in 2012 around the infield. ZIPS projects him at .265/.316/.379 which isn't bad for a 23 year old rookie middle infielder.
Pitcher face is the best
This is the real strength of the Nats, and they'll lean on their young arms if they get to the playoffs. Amazingly, they may not even be in the top half of the division, as both the Phillies and Braves have the best arms in the NL, and the Marlins have two aces in Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhrle. Still, this rotation has the potential to be one of the best in the NL, and the bullpen is very strong as well.
2012 ZIPS projected stats (IP/FIP/K/9): 75.2/2.78/9.27
The second best NL pitcher to debut in 2010, Strasburg has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the league for years to come. After returning from TJ surgery last year, Strasburgh pitched very well in a small sample. ZIPS likes him so much that it's projecting an under 3 FIP for him, among the best in the league. Strasburg will almost certainly have an innings cap on him, so the Nats will have to find an adequate replacement for him late in the season.
SP: Gio Gonzalez
2012 ZIPS projected stats: 195.1/3.65/8.76
After Latos, the best pitching acquisition in the offseason. Gonzalez has been one of the better young pitchers in the league, and he looks to improve his numbers in the spacious Nationals Park. ZIPS is a bit pessimistic for him, with most projections having him with a lower FIP, but he should still be a very solid pitcher for the Nats.
SP: Edwin Jackson
2012 ZIPS projected stats: 199.2/3.62/6.81
Straight off his WS win with the Cards (pours bleach into eyes), Jackson took a one year with a Nats to get back on the market next year, when the pitching is not quite as abundant. Jackson is a guy that makes most projections shrug their shoulders in confusion, but he still figures to be an above average pitcher this year.
SP: Jordan Zimmerman
2012 ZIPS projected stats: 120.2/3.51/7.46
Why don't you ask him if he's related to Ryan? I'm sure he's never heard that before. The depth that Washington has is pretty incredible, as you could make the case that Jordan is their 4th best pitcher. He doesn't figure to throw as many innings as Jackson and Gonzalez, and that could be a factor later on in the year.
SP: John Lannan/Chien-Ming Wang
2012 ZIPS projection: 175:75/4.45:4.57/4.78:4.68
Not much to see here, two innings eaters with subpar strikeout numbers. Lannan has been the subject of intense trade talk, and he could be delt before the year begins. If that happens, look for Wang to take the 5th and final spot in the rotation.
Again, a very solid group. Storen looks to take the mantle of most weather related puns from David Weathers, and ZIPS like him to the tune of a 3.17 FIP and a 8.79 K/9. Clippard continues to be one of the best setup men in baseball, and he projects to an almost 11 K/9. ZIPS isn't as favorable to Lidge, but it still has him posting a respectable 3.82 FIP.
This should be a team that competes for the 2nd Wild Card. Their hitting should improve over last year, with full years from Zimmerman and LaRoche, and an improved season from Werth. The pitching should be in the top half of the league, with great seasons from Strasburg and Gonzalez, and above average ones from Zimmerman and Jackson. I see this team competing for the 2nd Wild Card well into September, but unfortunately, I think it's a year too early for them. 84-78 and 3 games back of the playoffs
*A massive, massive thanks to Federal Baseball, who all went way above and beyond when I asked for their input on the final roster decisions. You guys are all awesome.