How Winning Teams are Built
Last week I wrote about the dangers of the WARpire (VORPire) and why it is important to have a bottom of the roster that won't cost a team any games, or to word it a different way won't cancel out the contributions of the top of the roster. Having a 5.0 fWAR player means nothing if there are enough negative players to cancel that out. The middle and bottom of the roster are the foundation upon which the stars stand. A team needs that bottom of the roster in order to win because without them the stars cannot flourish. Think about the Red Sox and the changes they made going into 2013. Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes aren't stars, but they aren't negative assets either and their presence on the roster allows David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia contributions to matter. Think about a roster this way. An entire team of average major league players would win 81 games. They would be a .500 team composed of mostly 2-3 fWAR players. Now think of a star player as a 5.0 fWAR player. They can be more and an MVP or Cy Young candidate will be closer to 7.0 fWAR but for this thought experiment let's keep it at 5.0 fWAR. If 81-81 is achieved with a roster of all average players then a 90 win or playoff caliber team needs three 5.0 fWAR players to go along with those average MLB players. That is it. A playoff team needs to have three stars, but here is the catch. Every player able to achieve a 5.0 fWAR season isn't going to do it. Winning teams are built by having multiple players capable of having a 5.0 fWAR season because the more that can do it the higher the chance that the requisite three will.
When it comes to the Nationals they have a couple guys that have done it (Zimmerman, Gonzalez, Desmond, Fister), a couple that have come close (Harper, Werth), and a couple that could do it if they stay healthy (Strasburg, Ramos). In total that is eight players with the ability to put up a 5.0 fWAR season. The most likely being Strasburg and Harper. If either of those players reach their potential then a 5.0 fWAR season is the baseline. Both of those players have the ceiling to be perennial MVP and Cy Young contenders and if they reach that this season then they'll be looking down at 5.0 fWAR. Ian Desmond would be the next most likely because he has done it the last two seasons. All Ian Desmond has to do is play like he has the last two years and he will once again be a 5.0 fWAR season. It isn't that hard of an argument to make that he could do it for a third year in a row. Gio Gonzalez is much the same argument except that he needs to do what he did in 2012. He has done it that recently and all he has to do is be the player he was two seasons ago once again. The other four require a slightly more convincing argument, but they all have the capability to do it.
In 2009 and 2010 Ryan Zimmerman wasn't just the best player on the Nationals he was one of the best players in the league achieving a 6.8 fWAR in both seasons. Since that time Ryan Zimmerman has dealt with shoulder, oblique, and hamstring injuries that have all diminished his play in different ways. In 2013 Ryan Zimmerman's batting wasn't much different than his career numbers, but for the first time in his career he was a significant negative asset on defense. The good news on that is that in the second half of 2013 Ryan Zimmerman didn't just look like a better defender he looked like the old Ryan Zimmerman. If Zimmerman can play defense even half as good as the 2009-10 version of Zimmerman and have one more career season with the bat he is easily a 5.0 fWAR player. That ability is still within Ryan Zimmerman and 2014 could be the year it comes out.
Jayson Werth has never been a 5.0 fWAR player, but he has been a 4.9, 4.8, 4.9, and was a 4.6 fWAR player in 2013. So close to 5.0 fWAR but yet so far. At 35 years old and coming off his best season as a National it is hard to imagine Jayson Werth getting to that level, but we are talking about possibility and not probability here, and when it comes down to it Jayson Werth has the talent to be a 5.0 fWAR player. He would have done it last season had he played a few more games. What Jayson Werth really needs to be able to do it is health. If he can play 150-160 games at his career average offensive ability and have one last career year on defense then Jayson Werth is a 5.0 fWAR player.
Doug Fister was a 5.2 fWAR pitcher back in 2011 when he was traded from the Mariners to the Tigers. That to this date was his career season, and while Fister has been a 5.0 fWAR player before I think an argument needs to be made for him. He is a ground ball pitcher and those pitchers typically aren't loved by FIP, the stat that fWAR is based on. That is the reason Jordan Zimmermann didn't make this list. Zimmermann has never come close to being a 5.0 fWAR pitcher and probably won't as long as he continues to be mostly a pitch to contact pitcher. Doug Fister profiles the same way, but is better at limiting hard contact, and that helps him when it comes to FIP. Fister has does it before, was at 4.6 last season, and now will be pitching in the NL not having to face the DH. And oh yeah he won't have Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera playing defense behind him in 2014. If Doug Fister is Doug Fister there is a good chance that equals a 5.0 fWAR pitcher.
My last pick may come as a bit of a surprise, but the thing about Wilson Ramos is he is a catcher. This one is the longest of odds, but Wilson Ramos has the potential to be a 20 homerun catcher. That is rare. Only Carlos Santana and Matt Wieters hit 20 or more homeruns as catchers in 2013 and Santana is so bad defensively at catcher he is moving to third base. Wilson Ramos is a large target that calls a good game and has a strong arm to throw out base stealers. The positional scarcity combined with Wilson Ramos' offensive potential gives him the ability to have a 5.0 fWAR season. It all has to come together for him, he has to stay healthy, and it would likely be the best season of his career but Wilson Ramos does have the potential to be something special behind the plate. Catchers that can hit the ball with his type of power are a rare asset and if he reaches his potential in 2014 he'll be a 5.0 fWAR player.
Eight guys with the ability to be 5.0 fWAR player. The chances ranging from good to slight, but there are eight players on the Nationals with the ability to do it and if just three of them do it then the Nationals will win 90 games, and that is if everyone else is average. Some of these eight players could achieve somewhere between 2.1-4.9 fWAR which would give the Nationals a few extra wins and this is all assuming that Mike Rizzo made the right moves around the bottom of the roster to keep them from screwing it up. Still it is easy to see how it comes together, how a winning team is built, and why the Nationals are once again expected to contend for the NL East division crown.