National Positional Starters Review

I’m going to look at the positional breakdown for the NL East Champions.  The last time I looked at them was June 20th but at that time they had Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg.

Eric Stephen gives us the statistical breakdown of the matchup but the Nationals are not the team who played 162 games as they get ready to face the Dodgers.

The Dodgers couldn’t be playing this team at a better time.

The bads news for the Nationals:

  • Wilson Ramos is out.
  • 2016 MVP candidate Daniel Murphy is hurt
  • 2015 MVP Bryce Harper is hurt.
  • 1st baseman and cleanup hitter Ryan Zimmerman is horrible
  • SS Danny Espinosa is horrible

The Good news for the Nationals:

  • they have their own game-changing rookie in Trea Turner who would have given Corey Seager a run for his money as the ROY if he hadn’t been forced to play eighty-three games at AAA instead of in the major leagues.
  • Max Scherzer could neutralize Clayton Kershaw
  • They have a left-handed starter
  • Anthony Rendon looks like the star we thought he’d be after 2014
  • Mark Melancon has plugged the huge hole at closer that has always been a problem

Catcher – unfortunately for National fans, Wilson Ramos is out of the postseason having sustained a season-ending ACL tear in late September.  Ramos and Grandal would have made a great matchup at the backstop position with both players having great offensive seasons. Instead,  the Nationals will be turning to Jose Lobaton and rookie Pedro Severino.

Both are better defensive players than Ramos. Lobaton is known for his ability to frame pitches. Severino is the Nationals top catching prospect because of his glove, not his bat — though his offensive consistency has improved because of a “more efficient” swing, Rizzo said

Lobaton twisted his ankle several weeks ago and might sit against LHP since it bothers him when hitting right-handed. Lobaton is a switch hitter. Severino,  while not known for his bat does have an OPS of 1.048 in very limited playing time (34 plate appearances)

1st Base at one time Ryan Zimmerman was a good baseball player, now he may own the worst contract in baseball. At least he’s consistent, Ryan was the worst 1st baseman in the NL over the full season, and he was the worst 1st baseman over the past 30 days. He has a wRC+ of 67. His backup is Clint Robinson, and he’s just as bad with a wRC+ of 70. 1st base is clearly the Nationals Achilles heal. As bad as Zimmerman was all season, Dusty Baker still gave him 64 starts batting fourth or fifth and even hit him cleanup on the last day of the season.

2nd Base – Daniel Murphy should finish in the top three in the MVP voting . Even playing only 142 games he led the league in doubles with 47. He hit .347, and led the league in slug% (595) and OPS (985). He had the best offensive season of any second baseman in the NL since Jeff Kent in 2000. The only other NL 2nd baseman I could find since integration to lead the league in OPS and Slug% was Joe Morgan in 1976.   Dodger and Cub fans certainly remember the tear that Murphy went on while with the Mets last October. He hasn’t stopped hitting until he injured his buttocks, and hasn’t started since Sept 18th. Baker says he’ll be ready for the opener but it does not sound like he’ll be at full strength.

Murphy has not started since Sept. 18, when he originally suffered the injury. He pinch-hit twice in the next week, but when an MRI exam revealed a muscle strain, the Nationals shut him down. If the season ended today, he would finish second for the National League batting title with a .347 average, tied for the Nationals single-season record for doubles and hits.

So the good news for Dodger fans is that Murphy has a sore butt, and is still not a very good at defense.

Shortstop – Danny Espinosa was the hottest of hot and the coldest of cold this year. Actually outside of June and the first three games of July he was frigid.  He somehow hit 24 home runs and yet couldn’t get his slug% over .400. Nine of those 24 home runs came in June. Five of them came in a four-game stretch from June 30th – July 3rd. Outside of June and those three games in July, he was truly horrible putting up a .544 OPS over his last 293 plate appearances.  He starts at SS because he can play solid defense, take a walk, and hit a home run if he runs into a hot streak. At least I assume that is why he is still starting at SS.

3rd Base – Fangraphs says that Anthony Rendon is an excellent defensive 3rd baseman. I only see his offensive highlights so I’m going to believe that. They have Justin Turner as the best defensive 3rd baseman in the NL and Rendon 3rd. Rendon bounced back from a tough offensive and injury plagued 2015 to regain the luster he had after his 2014 breakout season where he finished 5th in MVP voting and took the Silver Slugger award. Rendon had a fairly pedestrian first half but caught fire in the second half and has the 3rd best wRC+ of any 3rd baseman in the second half. He did cool off in Sept after torrid spells in July and August.

Right Field – Bryce Harper started out this as though he’d re-write record books while cruising to his 2nd MVP season. He ended it with a whimper and after May 8th rarely resembled the MVP of 2015.  On May 8th, Harper was walked six times, three of them intentionally. At that point of the season,  he had an OPS of 1.064. For the rest of the year, his OPS was .752 in 495 plate appearances. Not exactly Babe Ruth.  I know he’s banged up now and was a non-offensive factor in Sept but I have no idea what happened from May 9th until he got hurt.  FiveThirtyEight chips in on why,

So far in 2016, Harper’s exit velocity is down almost two and a half mph from his average last season — even as MLB’s overall exit velocity has spiked this year. Alongside that decrease in exit velocity has come a sharp increase in launch angle. Harper’s typical batted ball in 2015 ranged between a launch angle of about 13 to 16 degrees, giving him a line drive swing conducive to a high batting average.

but it still doesn’t answer the question, why has his exit velocity and launch angle changed?

Center Field – Many felt that Trea Turner could be a good major league baseball player. I don’t think anyone could honestly say he would be the best offensive center fielder in baseball not named Mike Trout in the second half.  He doesn’t walk much, doesn’t strike out much relative to today’s game, and his BABIP is close to .400 but for over 300 at bats the kid is hitting the hell out of the ball.  In only 324 plate appearances he has 14 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs, and 33 stolen bases while being caught only six times. He simply flies ala Dee Gordon but with power. His OPS sits at .937 as a leadoff hitter.  He’s as exciting a hitter to show up in the NL since Corey Seager.  Trea Turner replaced Ben Revere, talk about getting a bump.

Left Field – Jayson Werth signed a seven-year with the Nationals back in 2010. Unlike just about anyone who has signed a five/six/seven-year deal at the age of 32, he is still starting and producing. His season OPS+ is only 99 and his once solid defense seems to have nosedived, so the shaggy one is on the decline from his once great self, but at least he was healthy all year.

This team is hobbled but with almost a week off between the end of the year and the first postseason game they have time to heal some wounds. It won’t’ be enough time for Ramos or Strasburg, and they still have Zimmerman, Espinosa getting key at-bats. Can Trea Turner keep on super staring into the postseason? If he gets on, he will run wild, but will anyone drive him home? Harper is hurt and struggling, Werth is pedestrian at best, Murphy is hurt but dangerous, and Zimmerman/Espinosa are simply not good from the offensive side.

As I said up top the Dodgers are running into the Nationals at the right time. A healthy Nationals teams would have made for a formidable matchup, but if the Dodgers can’t get past this team without Strasburg, without Ramos, with Harper reeling, and Murphy hurt plenty of fans won’t be happy with the postseason ending after one series for the 3rd time in four tries.

 

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