Analyzing Washington Nationals Hitters for 2020

The World Series champion Nationals had the sixth-best wOBA in the majors last season, led by Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick and Juan Soto. Rendon posted a career-best .413 wOBA over 646 plate appearances, so without him, this upcoming season it looks like the Nationals will have difficulty replicating their 2019 performance. However, even without Rendon in the lineup, Washington’s wOBA would have been among the top 10 in MLB. Four players on their current roster reached base at over a 35% clip last season, and three of them slugged over .490.

(Last Updated: 01/13/20)

Roster Changes

 

  • ADDITIONS: 2B Starlin Castro, 1B Eric Thames
  • SUBTRACTIONS: 3B Anthony Rendon

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Kurt Suzuki (C | Batting 7th)

2019: 37 R, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 0 SB, .264/.324/.486 | C #14

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

Kurt Suzuki ranks ninth in home runs among catchers since 2017. Of the top 10, Gary Sanchez, Mike Zunino and Salvador Perez have a better HR/PA, and only J.T. Realmuto has produced a better batting average. The likelihood of Suzuki playing more than 110 games is low, but his strong per-game production makes him a viable top-10 option at the catcher position.

 

Strengths: HR, RBI, AVG

Weaknesses: R

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Suzuki hits 20+ homers and subsequently drives in 70+ runs in a rather top-heavy Nationals lineup, all while maintaining a batting average of .285.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Age catches up to Suzuki, and the power production falls back to what we were seeing from him when he was on the Twins. He’s only useful as a streamer against left-handed pitching.

 

2020 Projection: 40 R, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 0 SB, .268/.331/.469

 

Infielders

 

Eric Thames (1B | Batting 4th)

2019: 67 R, 25 HR, 61 RBI, 3 SB, .247/.346/.505 | 1B #29

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

Eric Thames has struggled against left handed pitching since returning to the MLB in 2017 (his OPS is a paltry .662), but for every Doctor Jekyll there’s a Mister Hyde, and Thames’ performance against RHP is just that (OPS .882). Nationals Park is a downgrade for pulled home runs compared to Miller Park, and given that Thames only hit two home runs to the left field side in 2019 there could be a decline in his power numbers on the Nationals, albeit a slight decline. Drafting him with Howie Kendrick could prove to be a very useful 1B platoon if you opt to punt the position this season.

 

Strengths: HR

Weaknesses: AVG

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Father Thames unleashes his godly power on his way to a 35-homer season.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Thames can’t get into a rhythm and becomes Chris Davis, allowing Kendrick to become the primary first baseman against both RHP and LHP.

 

2020 Projection: 77 R, 28 HR, 64 RBI, 3 SB, .246/.352/.498

 

Starlin Castro (2B | Batting 5th)

2019: 68 R, 22 HR, 86 RBI, 2 SB, .270/.300/.436 | 2B #19

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

From a process driven standpoint, Starlin Castro should be expected to perform better on the Nationals than he did on the league’s worst offense. Nationals Park is significantly more favorable for homers according to ESPN’s MLB Park Factors, and the research done by Alex Fast on barrels and park factors also indicates that pulled barrels are more likely to leave the park in D.C. than they are in Miami. Then why doesn’t his projection look all that different than his 2019 output? Because Castro ran extremely hot in the second half of last season (44/16/52) and does not have the underlying skillset to sustain it in the subsequent season, a lo Christian Yelich.

 

Strengths: RBI, AVG

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Castro has his best season since leaving the Cubs, hitting 25 homers for the first time in his career while maintaining a batting average above .300.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Castro struggles to find a rhythm and the Nationals cannot stomach his sub .700 OPS despite being a top three fielder at his position. Asdrubal Cabrera rotates over to second and Carter Kieboom is called up to play third.

 

2020 Projection: 77 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 4 SB, .281/.320/.452

 

Asdrubal Cabrera (3B | Batting 6th)

2019: 69 R, 18 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB, .260/.342/.441 | 3B #32

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

Cabrera is far from exciting, but what he lacks in excitement he makes up for in reliability. His ability to play any position on the infield keeps his plate appearance floor in the mid-500s, and his batting average has not dipped below .260 since 2014. The odds Cabrera eclipses 90 RBI again is fairly low, but with the lineup in front of him he’ll likely drive in more than 70. If he continues to be taken with an ADP of 388, he’s a lock for a positive return on investment.

 

Strengths: RBI

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Cabrera accounts for 160 R+RBI and maintains a batting average between .280 and .290.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Cabrera struggles like he did for most of the first half of last season, driving the Nationals to call up Carter Kieboom, who hits the ground running and supplants him as the everyday third baseman.

 

2020 Projection: 66 R, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 2 SB, .268/.338/.452

 

Trea Turner (SS | Batting 2nd)

2019: 96 R, 19 HR, 57 RBI, 35 SB, .298/.353/.497 | SS #3

2020 ADP: 8.0 (SS #3)

 

While Trea Turner may never realize the 70+ stolen base potential the second half of 2016 teased us with, he still provides an incredible floor of 7.1% steals per plate appearance. For context, other early-round speed options Whit Merrifield and Starling Marte offer 4.8% and 5.9% SB/PA, respectively. Adalberto Mondesi truthers can drool at his rate of 10.1%, but 600 plate appearances of .250 batting average will be more of a parking boot than a boost, which Turner’s batting average has consistently provided throughout his career.

Some would argue that Turner does not provide enough power when compared to other shortstops drafted in the first round, citing that he’s never cracked 20 in a season since entering the MLB. While this is true, Turner’s actual barrels per batted ball event underperformed his expected Barrel/BBE by 3.4 percentage points, indicating that he likely should have hit more than 20 last year. As Alex Chamberlain points out in his Deserved Barrel % piece, this measure is not meant to be predictive, but it does highlight that we may be underrating Turner as a power source heading into 2020.

 

Strengths: R, SB, AVG

Weaknesses: RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Turner stays healthy for the entire season, and the 50+ steal, 25+ homer season we’ve always dreamt of becomes a reality.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He misses about 45 games and the Nationals become more conservative with how they utilize him on the basepaths. He barely steals 30 bases and hits fewer than 15 homers.

 

2020 Projection: 103 R, 24 HR, 75 RBI, 44 SB, .288/.347/.486

 

Outfielders

 

Juan Soto (LF | Batting 3rd)

2019: 110 R, 34 HR, 110 RBI, 12 SB, .282/.401/.548 | OF #8

2020 ADP: 11.2 (OF #6)

 

Juan Soto’s statistics do more justice to his hitting prowess than my prose. The sole knock on his batting profile heading into last season was erased, as Soto decreased his ground-ball percentage from 53.7% to 41.6%. He was in the top 5 percent of xSLG and wOBA, per Baseball Savant, and his xWOBA indicates he could have performed 0.013 better than he did.

Last year we were talking about Nolan Arenado as a viable top-five pick, but with Soto, the current “reach” pick is 10th overall. It is difficult to make the case for Soto over the five outfielders ranked ahead of him, but consider this: In the two of the last five seasons, Trout has stolen 11 bases. If you take his counting stats from those seasons and scale them for 650 plate appearances, the result would be 109/44/99 with a .295 batting average. Expecting Soto to increase his homer total by 29% is admittedly far too optimistic, but an 18% increase would put him at 40 with 22 more R+RBI. If his ADP is still this low in March, having the 10th pick will be the sixth-best draft position.

 

Strengths: R, HR, RBI, AVG

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Soto accounts for 240 R+RBI, eclipses 40 homers, and maintains a batting average above .300.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Soto’s ground-ball percentage falls closer to what it was in 2018, dragging his R+RBI total below 200 and his home run total below 30.

 

2020 Projection: 115 R, 35 HR, 115 RBI, 8 SB, .296/.412/.563

 

Victor Robles (CF | Batting 8th)

2019: 86 R, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 28 SB, .255/.326/.419 | OF #22

2020 ADP: 70.5 (OF #21)

 

Victor Robles had a much more patient second half of the season than the first, improving his batting average by nearly two percentage points and his stolen base success rate by over 17 percentage points. However, the increased patience came at the expense of his power, as Robles only mustered four home runs in the second half and saw his slugging percentage slide from .443 down to .393.

Obviously the most ideal situation would be for Robles to be as patient and potent as he was in the minors, but it cannot be expected that he does so as soon as Opening Day 2020. There is potential for Robles to steal 35 bases with the same number of attempts as last season, which is why he’s being taken in the first six rounds of early mock drafts. There is still plenty of potential elsewhere, but the opportunity cost is much lower than where Starling Marte and Merrifield are being drafted, making Robles a very viable selection.

 

Strengths: R, SB

Weaknesses: RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Robles puts together what many considered a “disappointing” Trea Turner season in 2018: 175 R+RBI, 20 HR, 40+ SB

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

The expectations are met with a similar output to the “catastrophic” Byron Buxton 2018 season.

 

2020 Projection: 83 R, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 31 SB, .268/.334/.429

 

Adam Eaton (RF | Batting 1st)

2019: 103 R, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 15 SB, .279/.365/.428 | OF #30

2020 ADP: 250.0 (OF #60)

 

I understand his health may have burned some teams in 2017 and 2018, but are we really so desperate for power that we’re barely discriminating between Adam Eaton and Trent Grisham? To be fair, his ADP is deflated a bit by PL Staff Mock Draft No. 1 where he went undrafted, but even if you exclude that Eaton’s ADP is only 227.6, which is after A.J. Pollock was taken.

Since 2015, Eaton’s production has been incredibly consistent on a per-plate-appearance basis. If you take exclude 2017’s hot start and adjust his performances to 656 plate appearances (last season’s total), his stat line would be: 94.6 R, 12.6 HR, 53.9 RBI, 15.3 SB, .288/.371/.425

Need something more persuasive to convince you that Eaton’s ADP is too low? Here’s a semi-blind resume comparison of Eaton and Player M.

Player HR R RBI SB AVG 2020 ADP
Eaton 15 103 49 15 .279 250.0
Merrifield 16 105 74 20 .302 54.8

 

If Eaton falls beyond the 16th round, regardless of your team construction at that point in the draft, take him. You’ll be much happier than the owner who paid up for Merrifield.

 

Strengths: R, AVG

Weaknesses: RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Eaton replicates the hot start he had back in 2017 but plays 150 games. He finishes as a top-10 run producer in the league.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

The glass-bones and paper-skin narrative holds true, and Eaton misses over half the season.

 

2020 Projection: 105 R, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 16 SB, .293/.377/.440

 

 

Playing Time Battles

 

The playing time battle between Eric Thames and Howie Kendrick will likely be the most interesting one Washington has heading into Opening Day. Roster Resource currently has Thames slotted in as their regular 1B against RHP, but Kendrick finished with the 30th best OPS against RHP last season; Thames came in at 64th. Kendrick also led the majors in expected batting average and had the fourth highest expected slugging percentage in 2019. According to Baseball Savant’s new Infield Outs Above Average metric, Thames was the stronger defender of the two last season. When you pair this with his higher power floor, it’s understandable why Thames is more likely to be the regular first baseman, but he’s not exactly a shoo-in.

Barring an extended stint on the injured list for either of the other infield additions, Carter Kieboom has been blocked from regular playing time. If Kieboom were to become the everyday 3B, it would be reasonable to expect performance similar to that of Keston Hiura, as the FanGraphs prospect staff has likened Kieboom to him, or Corey Seager because of the gorgeous swing he has.

 

Projected Lineup

 

Projected Lineup v. LHP
Order Player Position Bats
1 Adam Eaton RF L
2 Trea Turner SS R
3 Juan Soto LF L
4 Howie Kendrick 1B R
5 Starlin Castro 2B R
6 Asdrubal Cabrera 3B S
7 Kurt Suzuki C R
8 Victor Robles CF R
9 Pitcher P L/R

 

Projected Lineup v. RHP
Order Player Position Bats
1 Adam Eaton RF L
2 Trea Turner SS R
3 Juan Soto LF L
4 Eric Thames 1B L
5 Starlin Castro 2B R
6 Asdrubal Cabrera 3B S
7 Kurt Suzuki C R
8 Victor Robles CF R
9 Pitcher P L/R

 

Conclusion

 

No team has defended its World Series title since the 2000 Subway Series, so the Nationals should not be expected to do so. Even the National League pennant will be tough for them to defend, with NL East rival Atlanta Braves still strong and the Dodgers returning all the pieces of their fourth-ranked offense. Regardless of how their season turns out, there will certainly be plenty of Nationals on fantasy championship rosters.

Photos by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire (Eaton) and Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire (Turner) | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Alex Drennan

Alex is a self-proclaimed rational Mets fan, yet he buys into the team's false hope every April. He's usually disappointed by mid-May.

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Comments


Alex Drennan

Hi Dan,

I wrote the piece approximately a week ago and unfortunately have not had the opportunity to update reflecting the recent additions Washington has made in Castro, Cabrera and Thames. Ideally, this will be updated tonight or by tomorrow.

Captain phil

Great analysis and I mostly agree- our health and pitching will determine if we have success more than the loss of Rendon- but you don’t mess with success and the top of the batting order with turner leading off inspired and fed off their success- I think Robles can improve his OBA and use his speed in front of his good friend Soto and this could be dynamic – the big plus is our bullpen – 🤞 – it could be a strength and make up for the loss of Rendon’s clutch bat- Rendon likely won us 10 to 15 games but the relievers gave up nearly that many so it’s a wash – this year that reverses – maybe ?😉

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