2015 Season Previews: Washington Nationals

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!

Washington Nationals

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 92-70 (1st in NL East, 2nd in MLB)

Manager: Matt Williams (96-66 in one season with Washington)

Top Three Players: 2B/3B Anthony Rendon (5.1), OF Bryce Harper (4.2), RHP Max Scherzer (4.0)

Bounce-back Player: 1B Ryan Zimmerman

Shoulder woes have slowed Zimmerman in the same way that they did Scott Rolen, but the Nationals have moved Zimmerman to first, where he won’t have to make as many throws. The end result should be a healthier, productive season; although, a thigh and fractured finger were the primary injuries that allow Zimmerman to play in only 61 games last season. This will the the 11th season in a Nationals uniform for Zimmerman, and this is his age-30 season. Don’t consider him washed up. He is locked in at .280/.350/.480 with about 25 home runs and 85 RBI in a dynamic lineup.

Harper isn't going to make anyone wait for an eruption this season. Courtesy: CSNWashington.com
Harper isn’t going to make anyone wait for an eruption this season.
Courtesy: CSNWashington.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Bryce Harper

Duh, right? At 22, Harper is ready to continue his assault on opposing pitchers, but THIS is the year that he reaches 30 home runs and stays healthy. What is he capable of when he stays on the field and has Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, and Ian Desmond on the field with him? This is a dangerous lineup and Harper has the potential to be the most productive player in that lineup. This is the year that he starts heading towards that ceiling, closing in on a .300/.400/.500 line, while increasing his power output as he becomes more physically mature.

Offseason Overview: When you have five very good starting pitchers and you’ve won 96 games, what do you really need to do to improve? Well, sign the best free agent pitcher on the market to a seven-year, $210 million deal, which is what they did when signed RHP Max Scherzer. The move pushed Tanner Roark (15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 31 starts) to the bullpen, while making LHP Ross Detwiler expendable, as he was shipped to Texas for a couple of prospects. The Nationals didn’t need to do much to improve their team, but they still made a huge splash and got better.

The Verdict: A healthy Zimmerman and Werth will help the Nationals to 100 wins, but it will be Harper, Rendon, Desmond, and the pitching that will get them to 95 wins. This is the best team in baseball, regardless of PECOTA projections. The pitching is elite and they have Roark ready in a swing role and A.J. Cole ready in Triple-A. With Lucas Giolito and Joe Ross likely to start the year in Double-A, they are far off from making an impact, either. Michael Taylor, a powerful, speedster, will be taking over center for the first several weeks with Denard Span on the shelf. The Nationals are very good, and this is the year that they put it all together.

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