How Good Can the Nationals Be
The Nationals roster isn't complete. There are two bullpen spots to be won in Spring Training or filled in a trade of Michael Morse, but those two spots will have little impact on the Nats prospects for 2013. In my curiosity I decided to make a spreadsheet of the average fWAR for the Washington Nationals roster. I left a couple things out. I didn't calculate pitcher's batting, but as the Nats pitchers were fairly decent in 2012 that could be a marginal positive, but even if they aren't that good it isn't something that matters a great deal. I also got a bit lazy with the bullpen and sense the Nats have virtually the same bullpen as 2012 and that bullpen was middle of the pack in fWAR I figured the 2013 Nats bullpen will be much the same. The bench I added up, hoped for fewer injuries, and subtracted a win or two off. The grand total of all this is that the Nats will be a 52.8 fWAR team.
In 2012 they were a 50.1 fWAR team. With a team of replacements being figured to win around 45-50 games the Nats win total of 98 fits comfortably in there. Now in 2012 the Nats had a number of players below their career average fWAR. Jayson Werth has averaged 3.3 fWAR for his career and in 2012 he was worth 1.0 fWAR. Ryan Zimmerman was closer to his career average fWAR than expected, but still lower at 4.5 compared to 4.8 average for his career. Either way the Nats two highest paid players had below average seasons. The biggest improvement in fWAR for the Nats though comes from the addition of Dan Haren. His career average fWAR of 4.7 would be a great boost to the Nationals, but as he wasn't even worth 2.0 fWAR in 2012 that can't be expected, but then that is somewhat balanced out by Ross Detwiler being rewarded with 1.8 fWAR when he could be closer to 3.0 in 2013. All this means is you take this average fWAR add it to 45 and 50 and get a good range total for the number of games the Nats should win in 2013.
But estimating the Nats to win between 98-102 games is if everyone on the team plays to their career averages. It has Gio Gonzalez going from a 5.4 fWAR to 3.4 and Ian Desmond dropping from 5.4 to 2.7. The point isn't to say that won't happen. It is highly likely that both of those players could regress some, but it is also likely that 2012 was a breakout year for both players and they could repeat that performance. There is also a chance that Danny Espinosa could have a breakout season and be much better than his career average fWAR of 3.7. There is also a chance that Jayson Werth could return to his 5.0 fWAR Philly days and Zimmerman could have a fully healthy productive season and be back to the 7.0 fWAR player he was in 2009.
Add all that to the 52.8 projected fWAR and it could push it close to or above 60 which would give the Nats a win range of 105-110. Now that has a lot going right, but none of those things are out of the realm of possibilities. It is very realistic to imagine Werth having one more great season, Zimmerman as an MVP candidate, Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond picking up in 2013 where they left off in 2012, and Danny Espinosa having a breakout season much like Desmond in 2012. All of these things are very possible along with Jordan Zimmermann learning a third pitch and becoming the third Ace everyone knows he can be, Wilson Ramos coming back stronger and better than expected, or Dan Haren finding his past glory and being the 6.0 fWAR pitcher he once was.
The Nats roster is so deep and filled with talent that there is something that could go right for nearly every player that pushes them well above their career average fWAR. Still that 110 looks like a good ceiling for the Nats. That is four things going right while nothing else goes wrong. That looks to be the top. Certainly more can go right, but that isn't how baseball works. Magical seasons like that are very rare. For every good action on a team there is an equal and opposite one. Meaning that the middle ground of the first projection is the most likely one, but then there are also things that can go wrong which could knock the Nationals projected fWAR down to 40 or below making the total expected range of a win total between 85-110.
All that means is that no matter what happens for the 2013 Nats they should be a good to great team. If more things go right than go wrong they will be one of the best teams ever put on a baseball field, and if more things go wrong than right they will be a decent team that could grab a second Wild Card slot. All of these things are in the realm of possibilities and none of them are as awful as watching an outfield that contains Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. The Nats have come a very long way and their floor is still above any win total this team saw in Washington before 2012.