The Washington Nationals: World Series or Bust

I am going to admit from the start I don't like thinking of this season as “World Series or bust”. It isn't that I don't think the team should be thinking that way it is more I don't like the concept. A team that is continually being tied to the 2013 Washington Nationals is the 2011 Boston Red Sox. Mainly because that was the last team so heavily favored and they failed to make the post-season. It is a word of warning, but that team did win 90 games and would have made the post-season as the second Wild Card under the current system. A Wild Card spot isn't what the Nationals want, and 90 games will be viewed as a disappointment, but it is hard to call a 90 win season a bust.  

The main reason the Nationals are in this position is that unbiased computer projection systems continue spitting out insane results. Even the conservative estimate that PECOTA spat out of 88 wins still has the Nationals winning the division by six games. Most other projection systems are higher and ZiPS even goes so far as to say the Nationals have a 27% chance of winning over 100 games. This is all insanity, but even my own projection system of taking the players average career WAR and making some logical adjustments for pitchers like Strasburg who has never pitched 200 innings comes out to 98 wins. Then there is this from Natstradamus that also came out to 98 wins.

I decided to take projecting in a different direction and threw out computers and stats and decided instead to use the logic of my brain. I stared at the Nats schedule until a number came to me. Here is what happened. The Nats play each team in their division 18 times and I figure they are even with the Braves so 9-9, slightly better than the Phillies so 10-8, and much better than the Mets or Marlins so 12-6 each there. That is a total number of wins in the division of 43. That leaves 90 games outside of the division with around 30 coming against the five teams in the NL Central and West. Figure in those 60 games the Nats go 35-25 and in the remaining 30 mostly against the AL Central and the Orioles the Nats go 20-10 since aside from the Tigers the AL Central is a weak division. That gives the Nats 55 additional wins. Add that to the previous 43 and the total is once again 98.  

The number 98 keeps coming up. It is the number of games the Nats won in 2012 and it is the number of games a lot of people are going to project them to win in 2013. It is hard to imagine anyone predicting the Nats to have less than a mid-90s win total. The Nats are a very good team and could once again end up with the best record in baseball. The Nats are such a good team on paper it caused Jayson Werth to ask if a team this complete has ever existed before. The Nats have a very complete roster from top to bottom. If we look at my average WAR projection and take out Strasburg and Harper (the Nats top projected pitcher and hitter) all of a sudden the Nats are projected to win 87 games. That might look bad at first, but the 2012 Cardinals made the post-season with 88 wins in 2012. 87 wins still makes the Nationals a contender. How many teams can have their best hitter and best pitcher simply wiped out of existence and still be projected to be a contender? I would guess not many.

The Nats are deep and that makes them dangerous. In fact, look at the Nats projected line-up with Bill James projected OPS vs. the 2012 average OPS for line-up spot:

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Nats Projected Lineup Projected OPS 2012 MLB Average OPS for Lineup Position

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Denard Span 0.729 0.715

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Jayson Werth 0.807 0.714

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Bryce Harper 0.823 0.813

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Ryan Zimmerman 0.845 0.812

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Adam LaRoche 0.805 0.758

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Ian Desmond 0.771 0.742

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Danny Espinosa 0.761 0.749

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Wilson Ramos 0.750 0.675

It is insanity. The Nats don't have a single player projected to have over a .900 OPS, but every single line-up spot is occupied by an above average hitter for that spot in the line-up. Dealing with this isn't going to be easy for pitchers. The Nats line-up may lack the thunder of a Joey Votto or a Ryan Bruan, but it is made up be length. The Nats line-up is long, and it does not provide a pitcher with an opportunity to rest. Opposing pitchers have to be careful with every single batter in this order. The Nats 1-5 is full of patient hitters who will let a pitcher walk them if they want to, and the bottom of the order is full of above average power for those line-up spots not afraid to swing away and cause some damage. 

The line-up isn't the only deep part of the Nationals. The rotation and bullpen are both insanely deep. The pitcher with the fifth best K/BB ratio of all time in Dan Haren is scheduled to start the season as the Nats fifth starter. The Nats 2011 closer is their set-up man and the Nats 2012 closer is their seventh inning guy and if they need someone for the sixth, it’s a pitcher that had 2.34 ERA in 88 1/3 innings in his first year of relieving. The Nationals are complete, they are dangerous and the predictions and projections aren't going to stop. As of this moment in time they are the World Series favorites, and at least in their minds anything less would be uncivilized.

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